Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, this callow young Kentucky team that lost ten games in the regular season is going to the Final Four.
Let that sink in for just one moment. This basketball team, a team that lost to South Carolina this season, lost to Florida 3 times and to Arkansas, an NIT team twice, is going to the Final Four. It is one win away from the 2014 NCAA Tournament finals, and two wins away from NCAA Tournament title #9.
If I had told you this would be so back in February, you would have written horrible things, and justifiably so, mocking my naivety. But it has nonetheless come to pass, and trust me, I would never have predicted it.
Before I go on, I want to congratulate the Michigan Wolverines on an outstanding season. They just missed going to back-to-back Final Fours, and they have nothing to be ashamed of losing to this Kentucky team, who has somehow, against all odds, risen up from the ashes of a very un-Kentucky-like season to change the world. Sometimes, destiny gets in the way of fantastic play, and the Wolverines were fantastic. I cannot say enough about the quality of the Michigan effort.
Final Box score
Kentucky 75, Michigan 72 [BOX SCORE] pic.twitter.com/9qY9novFvJ— TheCatsPause (@TheCatsPause) March 30, 2014
This was an amazing game from every standpoint. Kentucky won in spite of the absence of Willie Cauley-Stein (or perhaps in honor of him). It won despite having difficulty defending teams that can execute and shoot like Michigan. Marcus Lee? Where did he come from? How is it that he has played almost no time this season and came up with an effort like this?
Honestly, I have nothing but questions. This Wildcats team today did something amazing tonight that very few people will recognize or understand. They completely went outside their season experience, cast off the burdens of disappointment, and rose above a great team to win a great game, a game which will be remembered by both schools involved. This was college basketball at it's highest level, literally 1992 Duke-vs-Kentucky worthy. Even more amazing than that, it is the third game in a row that has been that way. No matter where this all winds up, this will be among the most unforgettable seasons in Kentucky history.
To the game; a few observations:
Kentucky really defended Stauskas well in the second half. Dominque Hawkins will never get the credit he deserves for his effort.
Both the Harrisons were great. They have taken their game to another level.
Marcus Lee was fantastic. People forget he was a McDonalds All-American. They will now remember, trust me.
The defense this team played may not have looked that great, but it was great. Michigan is just that good.
Coach Cal will get a lot of love from pundits who have spent the last six months disrespecting him.
What I really love about this team is how they have changed. They are completely different than the team that lost to Florida by 19 on March 8th.
Everybody on this team is playing like first-round draft picks right now. They are.
People will overlook Alex Poythress, but he was truly in beast mode tonight. That kid is becoming frightening. If he gets any better, we may do the impossible.
I cannot thank enough those of you readers that refused to give up on this team. I was thinking seriously about retirement after this season, but you have made that impossible. Thank you.
Kentucky this year has done things that have never been done. No matter what happens in the Final Four, this basketball team has forced most of us to recalibrate our expectations, and then completely exceeded them. An interesting thing is that Kentucky's defensive rating in KenPom was too low, I think, for them to make the Final Four when the tournament started. Not now, though.
I'm as amazed as you are, and we have to thank all our opponents: The Kansas State Wildcats, the Wichita State Shockers, the Louisville Cardinals, and the Michigan Wolverines for providing absolute top-flight competition. They were all great, and they all could have won. It didn't work out that way, but they should be proud of their respective teams, and I know they are. You are ALL A PART OF THIS, and even if you hate us, we respect you. Thank you for being great, and helping make us great, at least, to the extent we are.
A final point — this team is unknown to college basketball. The regular season team that played for Kentucky, and this one, are simply not the same team. That's going to make it tough on opponents going forward.