NCAA fans have been treated all weekend to a tournament of upsets and surprises. Some top teams have been pushed to the edge, and some have toppled and fallen. Viewers have been glued to the edge of their seats, anticipating an opportunity to witness history. Friday night, they got their chance, when the Wichita State Shockers became the first team to ever begin a season 35-0. That alone makes every game they play from here on out in the tournament a historic one. However, history is not the only thing waiting for the Shockers in St. Louis on Sunday. The Kentucky Wildcats and head coach John Calipari are there too, and in case you might not have known, they have been there before.
Calipari and the Wildcats have one of the finest pedigrees in NCAA history. They have only missed the NCAA Tournament twice in the last 20 years. In their history, they have won dozens of regular season and tournament conference championships, as well as eight NCAA Tournament Championships. Better still, Kentucky reaches the Sweet 16 over 70 percent of the time they are in the tournament. The list of their accomplishments goes on forever.
This year’s team has played a difficult schedule and has had a few tough losses, including three to no.1 Florida. Their 1-7 record against ranked opponents is not very impressive. However, this team can put up points in bunches and has a coach that knows how to motivate. The Wildcats dispatched Kansas State on Friday night with relative ease, and look ready to push Wichita State harder than any team has so far this year.
The Shockers have been the dandy of college basketball since they made their run to the Final Four. They have continued to ride the wave in 2014, securing a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Wichita State is not sneaking up on anyone this year, but being underestimated is no longer needed for this savvy veteran team. They took Cal Poly apart in the second round, defeating them 64-37 in a game that was not as close as the score even suggested. Their offense clicks on all fronts, and scoring can come from several players at a given time. They crash the boards well, and have a high percentage on their second-chance shots.
Defensively, the Shockers shut down opposing offenses, holding opponents to 59 ppg. Their ranking reflects a defense that has played in a lot of blowouts. Wichita State has a 16 point average margin of victory during the 2014 season. However, no one on their schedule even comes close to the talent and coaching that Kentucky possesses. The Shockers will have to play a complete game for possibly the first time all year, and their defense will be tested late. The good thing for Wichita State is that their style of play forces them to never take a play off. All season, their aggressive nature has kept them in focus and on point. Good thing, because they are going to need that to compete with the Wildcats.
Perhaps the greatest part of this matchup is the fans. Neither school is more than six hours away from St. Louis, which guarantees a packed house of both Shocker and Wildcat faithful. This may be a round of 32 game, but will surely have a championship atmosphere. The game could go either way, and no one would be surprised. The odds makers actually have Wichita State as a three point favorite. Maybe because they have the top seed in the region they are getting a little love. Kentucky is not usually the underdog, and their not really here either, no matter what Las Vegas says. However, the Shockers are starting to emerge as a program, not just a Cinderella. The game will be close throughout, and will come down to the last two minutes. Shockers make the shots when they count, and win a thriller 83-77.
Commentary by Chris Chisam