The Kentucky Wildcats have won an NCAA Tournament game.
What once seemed to be a wild sentence to think of, all of BBN can celebrate as the Cats picked up their first win in the Big Dance since 2019.
In what was a fistfight for most of the game on Friday night, Kentucky was able to outlast the Providence Friars, 61-53.
Now they turn their attention to the Kansas State Wildcats, as they will look to earn a date to the Sweet 16.
K-State is coming off a 77-65 win over Montana State in the Round of 64. It was a game that was fairly close throughout and an eight-point margin with eight minutes to go before the Wildcats closed out the game in impressive fashion.
For Kentucky, the storyline will be Oscar Tshiebwe once again, who this team will turn to in hopes to have a huge game. After posting a record 25 rebounds against the Friars, it still remains obvious that no one in the country can seem to slow down Oscar on the glass.
Add in some more solid play from Jacob Toppin (18 points) and Antonio Reeves (22 points), and things seem to be clicking at the right time for John Calipari’s squad.
The one thing the Cats will hope to overcome is a scoring drought on Sunday. In the first-round matchup with Providence, the Cats went cold in the second half, going nearly five minutes without a bucket as time dwindled down.
Luckily, the Friars went cold during the same stretch, but it can't be something to bank on in the coming rounds.
For Kansas State, the Big 12 Wildcats are led by a player Kentucky is very familiar with, as well as one of the best feel-good stories you’ll see.
That all changed on December 12th, 2020, when Johnson collapsed just minutes into Florida’s game at Florida State because of an undetected heart condition. That led to Johnson not playing in a college basketball game for the rest of the year, as well as the 2021-22 season. It appeared his career was over.
However, Johnson would resume his basketball career, enter the transfer portal, and ultimately land in Manhattan to suit up for first-year coach Jerome Tang. What followed was Johnson having a career year, averaging 17.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, and earned Third-Team All-American honors.
Against Montana State, Johnson racked up 18 points, eight boards, and three assists.
Good luck finding a better story in this tournament than that of Keyontae Johnson.
But these Wildcats aren’t a one-man show. They’re not even limited to one All-American.
That’s because fellow senior Markquis Nowell has become one of the best point guards in all of college basketball. The New York native is averaging 16.8 points, 7.6 assists, 2.4 steals, and 3.5 rebounds per game while also earning Third-Team All-American honors.
The 5-foot-8 floor general resembles former Wildcat great Tyler Ulis, who is actually on Kentucky’s coaching staff now. Perhaps Coach Ulis can help the SEC Wildcats devise a good game plan for Nowell, who racked up 17 points, 14 (!) assists, six rebounds, and three steals.
K-State is largely carried by Nowell and Johnson, so Kentucky finding a way to slow this duo down will be key to deciding a victor on Sunday.
The only other double-digit scorer for K-State is junior forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin, averaging 10.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and a team-high 0.8 blocks per game.
As mentioned above, Kansas State is having a surprisingly great first season in the Tang regime. He was hired this past offseason after serving as Baylor’s associate head coach and helping lead the Bears to the 2021 NCAA Championship.
Needless to say, Tang has brought some championship pedigree to Kansas State, now one win away from the Sweet 16 in a wide-open East Region after being projected to finish last in the Big 12 preseason projections.
Of course, we have to mention the fact that these two programs faced off in the 2018 Sweet 16, a game that saw K-State win a thriller before being ousted by Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago in the Elite Eight. Kentucky has already exercised some serious demons by winning a game in the Big Dance for the first time in 1,444 days. Winning Sunday would oust a few more of them.
Start Time: 2:40 ET on Sunday, March 19th.
Location: Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina.
TV Channel: CBS
Replay: You can watch condensed replays of each NCAA Tournament game using March Madness Live.
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has already bounced between pegging the game as a pick ‘em to now having Kentucky favored by a lone point. KenPom gives the Big Blue Nation Cats a 49% chance of victory, which is also where Bart Torvik is at.
Predictions: KenPom predicts a 74-73 win for K-State, while Bart Torvik is going with a 72-71 thriller for the Big 12 Wildcats. Go here for predictions on how far Kentucky will go in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
Depth Charts via KenPom: