Yep, I’m frightened.
Sure, there’s the normal fright that comes this time of year when you support a school that has been a top-four seed for nearly two decades and has a number of early flameouts over that span.
There’s the hand-wringing that fans of every school go through when they begin breaking down the bracket, sure that their favorite team has an unfairly difficult path to get to the Final Four.
But this year those annual fears aren’t quite as bad as they have been in recent years. They’ve been replaced, though, by a new fear. The fear that, in a year where everyone has said all year that there are no great teams and there isn’t a clear favorite, when anything can happen in March, when the Field is a better bet than normal, KU has suddenly become the favorite.
There are the 14-straight wins over the past seven weeks. Thirteen of those against the toughest conference in the nation and the 14th against Kentucky. Outside last year’s Kentucky team, not many programs can string together 20-straight wins in the back half of the college basketball season.
There was the romp through the Big 12 tournament, where they answered every challenge with the aplomb of a team that is completely locked in.
There was the steadiness that was apparent in wins at Oklahoma, at Baylor, against West Virginia at home, and then again against Baylor and WVU in Kansas City over the weekend. Every night, when things looked dire, this team shrugged its shoulders, almost casually strung big plays together, and got the win.
There was Devonte’ Graham taking the leap from Nice Player to Stud Who Makes Huge Plays That Keeps His Team From Losing.
Finally, there was the map some online site published last week that showed who people around the country were picking to win the national title. The methodology was simple: the team that got the most votes in each state had its logo plastered on the state. KU was the overwhelming favorite, in terms of states won.
Without even looking at who KU plays and where, there’s so much good surrounding this squad that I can’t help but wonder when the luck runs out, when the shots will stop falling, when the odds will catch up with them and bring their season to an end.
I’m trying, though. I’m trying really hard to appreciate what this team has done over the last two months. I’m trying to hold on to how they’ve answered so many challenges this season. I’m trying to focus on the truth that this is a damn good team and what happened last year, or the year before, or in 2010, or in 1998 doesn’t mean a thing in the 2016 tournament. And I’m going to try to enjoy their time in the tournament, no matter how long it lasts.
Call me cautiously optimistic. This team is capable of great things over the next three weeks. Hopefully they’re less worried about the past than I am and will make this a March to remember for KU fans.
Regarding the bracket, I think KU got a tough but fair draw. That’s good for this team, though. It should keep them focused. If it were up to me I’d swap a few teams for ones in other brackets, but I don’t think the committee conspired against KU.
During the selection show, we had guests and I had to run out to get pizza. So I missed a lot of the actual unveiling, the CBS/TNT nuttiness, and general discussion of the bracket at large. Clearly the full reveal of all 68 teams is stretched out entirely too long. That’s why it’s been years since I sat down and watch the entire show live with a blank bracket to fill in as teams are announced. It’s easier for me just to catch up 90 minutes later when CBS finally gets around to announcing everyone.
I haven’t looked too hard at the bracket as a whole. As much as I hate to agree with him, I liked John Calipari’s comment about Kentucky’s seed, when he wondered if the NCAA realized they had played a game earlier in the day and beaten Texas A&M. And while the numbers generally favor Oklahoma over West Virginia, I was still a little surprised the Sooners got a higher seed than the Mountaineers, a team that beat them twice (and nearly beat them a third time), not to mention finished ahead of them in the toughest conference in the country. I imagine Bob Huggins will use that to his motivational advantage.
I’ll wait until Thursday to share my picks, but at first glance I seem to be awfully chalky, at least in who makes it to Houston. I think the East regional has the potential to be the most entertaining. Kentucky should have to face Indiana in the round of 32, then are rewarded with a likely date with North Carolina if they get past the Hoosiers. That’s good stuff, right there.
Rejoice! It’s the most wonderful/terrible time of the year!
- The electoral college of NCAA picks, I guess. ↩