That darn John Calipari. Will he ever be happy?
Calipari spent much of his pre-tournament capital venting about Kentucky’s rotten draw: playing its opening-round games in Boise, far from Big Blue Nation. Set up in a bracket featuring the nation’s No. 1 team in Virginia and likely its No. 1 player in Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, plus wicked higher-seeded threats like Cincinnati and Tennessee. An ugly scenario for Kentucky, but to Calipari’s mind, all part of the NCAA’s ongoing conspiracy against him.
You know what happened next. The giants fell, one after another, and suddenly the forest that lay between Kentucky and another Final Four had become a 12-lane highway. Kentucky arrives in Atlanta — dubbed “Catlanta” because of its friendliness to the Wildcats — as the highest remaining seed in a bracket that contains powerhouses like Nevada, Kansas State and Loyola-Chicago.
Calipari literally could not have ordered a more favorable draw than this. And that, he believes, is the problem.
“We’re excited to be here, still playing,” he said on Wednesday prior to the round’s beginning. “My challenge is making sure these kids don’t drink that poison. That poison being, we have an ‘easy’ road. There are no easy roads in this tournament. If they drink that poison, we’ll be done Thursday. If they don’t drink the poison, it’ll be a dog fight Thursday — let’s see what happens. Sometimes you wonder why [the media is] trying to paint that picture with my team — probably because they’re young and they know they don’t know better. But the teams here [have] veteran coaches, and the teams are all playing well.”
All due respect to Cal, but it’s not the media or the fans painting this as an easy road — it’s the hard-and-fast numbers of seeding. Maybe — probably — Kentucky will roll through the bracket and on into San Antonio. But if it doesn’t, it can’t blame the media or any kind of “poison” for the loss; nobody who watched UMBC take apart UVA should ever take any opponent lightly ever again.
The Sweet Sixteen tips off Thursday night with Kentucky against Kansas State, and we’ll see how the Wildcats handle the poison of high expectations.
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