The Kentucky Wildcats went from the No. 1 team in the country to a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This is not what the Wildcat faithful had in mind when their squad of former McDonald’s All-Americans trotted out of the locker room back in November.
As the selection committee announced the names and seedings in the Midwest Region, John Calipari had to shake his head. With the Duke Blue Devils, Michigan Wolverines, Louisville Cardinals and unbeaten Wichita State Shockers standing in their way, this road could not be more difficult.
However, Kentucky (24-10) cannot overlook their first opponent, the No. 9 seeded Kansas State Wildcats (20-12). Placing fifth in the Big 12 may not sound very promising, but 2014 was one of the strongest years in the history of the conference. In a schedule rife with NCAA Tournament teams, Kansas State took their licks and dished a few out as well.
Bruce Weber has an athletic squad that can beat anyone, as exhibited by victories over the Kansas Jayhawks, Iowa State Cyclones and Oklahoma State Cowboys at their peak. Freshman Marcus Foster leads the team in scoring and has proven to be a catalyst when needed most. Foster and Wesley Iwundu are both shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc. Thomas Gipson (6-foot-7, 265-pounds) and his large frame will be hard to handle, as evidenced by his 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
Kentucky, on the other hand, benefited from a watered-down SEC schedule. When tested, Calipari’s squad did not exactly impress. The Wildcats lost three games to the Florida Gators, were swept by the Arkansas Razorbacks and lost to every ranked team they played with the exception of a victory over Louisville in December.
Crashing into a battle-tested Kansas State squad could mean an early exit for Kentucky. The winner of this game will likely face Wichita State, so a certain amount of looking ahead in inevitable. Calipari better impress upon his young players that doing so will only result in a disappointing trip back to Lexington.