So it is March, the month when casual college basketball fans join the die-hards, all intoxicated by the smell of newly printed brackets in the morning and the certain thought that they, the greatest experts of all, will win their NCAA pool and take home the (technically illicit) dough.
Already, the narrative is setting up. Two teams, Kentucky and Syracuse, have hogged the no. 1 ranking from December onward, putting up similar records and similar dominations in respective power conferences, leading to certain no. 1 seeds for the Dance.
That’s where the similarities cease, though. Take a sampling of the hoops pundits, and UK is projected as a close-to-unstoppable favorite, bursting with NBA-bound talent and defensive dominance.
SU, on the other hand, is nit-picked about every conceivable flaw, legitimate (defensive rebounding) and otherwise. The closeness of some of the Orange’s victories in the Big East is magnified. Similar contests UK had to deal with in the SEC are minimized.
Still, few dispute the notion that the Orange of Central New York and the Wildcats of the Bluegrass are the nation’s top two sides. Oh sure, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan State, Duke or North Carolina might carp, but they’ve all had more lapses than SU or UK.
And all of that means absolutely nothing come March 15. The beauty, and curse, of the NCAA Dance is that any team, no matter how great, can see the dream end with one bad night – and a hot night from an inspired opponent.
Thus, any time you hear someone talk about Kentucky’s inevitable march to the national title, remind yourself that the same tale has been heard before and, well, things didn’t turn out that way.
Granted, some pre-tourney favorites have rolled to the prize. Think Duke in 1992 and 2001, Kenutcky in 2006, Florida the second time around in 2007, North Carolina in 2009. Just as often, though, the so-called chalk got erased, and quite often UK was in the middle of it.