While I think many Kentucky fans could easily see UK at this point in the middle of this season, envisioning their potential remaining opponents on the way to the final game would certainly have been harder. In fact, it's easy to consider Kentucky's potential foes as unlikely a group as has been assembled in a long time.
That may seem like a strange statement, since the Indiana Hoosiers, Kentucky's opponent tonight, owns five NCAA Tournament championships, while the Louisville Cardinals and Florida Gators, one of whom will be Kentucky's national semifinal opponent should the Wildcats be fortunate enough to get past the Hoosiers tonight, have two apiece.
But none of these three teams really looked like Sweet Sixteen teams in the middle of the conference season. Florida was having trouble with the likes of Tennessee and Georgia, Louisville was sitting on four losses in the Big East with the toughest portion of their schedule to come, and Indiana, despite a torrid start which included a victory over Kentucky in Bloomington, was looking like a bubble team at best after their loss to Michigan February 1st.
But to their great credit, all these teams rose up at the end of the season and began playing their best basketball. Indiana began winning again, and went 8-2 in their last 10 games prior to Selection Sunday and wound up earning a 4 seed. Likewise Louisville, who had been left for dead by many after losing 4 of their last 6 in the Big East, went on a torrid run and won the difficult Big East Tournament, taking 4 games in four days and also earning a 4 seed.
Florida waited until the NCAA Tournament to play their best basketball, but the signs of a turnaround were there. Despite losing 5 of their last 8 regular-season SEC games, the Gators showed signs of life in the SEC tournament, defeating a tough Alabama team and giving Kentucky a very tough contest in a game they eventually lost. The committee saw fit to give Florida a 7-seed, and now the Gators have made the most improbable run of all, defeating tough Big East foe Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen to earn the right to play Louisville in the Elite Eight for a trip to the Final Four.
A lot of crystal balls have been broken by this tournament, but how many Kentucky fans could have figured that they would be potentially facing such familiar foes along the way? If Kentucky and Florida both win, they will face each other for the fourth time in a single season. For IU and Louisville, it will be the second meeting this year between each, and if the North Carolina Tar Heels make it to the national finals and Kentucky does also, it could be three straight non-conference rivals facing off against the Wildcats for the second time in a single season.
Amazing stuff, isn't it?