BOZICH: Wichita State Has Celebrated The Season Kentucky Wanted - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH: Wichita State Has Celebrated The Season Kentucky Wanted

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Four Kentucky players discussed the Wildcats NCAA Tournament game against Wichita State. Four Kentucky players discussed the Wildcats NCAA Tournament game against Wichita State.

ST. LOUIS (WDRB) – Let's begin with the fun stuff because even though by 2:45 p.m. Sunday everybody will be hyperventilating over this Kentucky-Wichita State basketball game, this should be as much fun as anything on the NCAA Tournament bracket.

Ask CBS lead announcer Jim Nantz. He told me Saturday that as soon as he saw a potential Kentucky-Wichita State game he knew that was one he wanted to call.

But before we get to the matchups, we have to deal with the grudge. Both teams are convinced you don't really love them, America.

I asked four Wichita State basketball players if they ever heard a peep from Kentucky during the recruiting process.

"No," Ron Baker said.

"No, sir," said Tekele Cotton.

"No, I wasn't either," said Darius Carter.

Nick Wiggins, a Wichita State reserve, is the older brother of Andrew Wiggins, the guy that Kentucky coach John Calipari wanted to be the seventh McDonald's all-American in his freshman class. Surely, Wiggins received at least as e-mail or text message, simply so the Wildcats could stay on the good side of his little brother.

"Never heard from them," Wiggins said.

You never even picked up the phone when they were calling for Andrew?

"Nothing," he said. "They don't recruit guys like us. We're nitty-gritty guys, man."

Wiggins believes that America wants the Shockers to tumble out of the bracket so the name programs can command the spotlight.

"America is waiting for us to slip up," Wiggins said. "They've been waiting for us to slip up all year. We use that as motivation. We're a hungry team. In this game, we still feel like it's us in black and yellow against the world."

So if you're playing the disrespect game, a game that the second-ranked Shockers love, score one for Wichita State. The Shockers' cry for respect is in plain view around this town. They cut a deal to have seven billboards promoting their basketball team around St. Louis, including one that can be seen from outside the Scottrade Center.

But you also need to understand the rest of the story. Disrespected Wichita State is actually greatly respected by the sharpies in Las Vegas because the Shockers are favored by four points. Nate Silver of the 538 blog predicts Wichita State to advance. Ken Pomeroy's computer formula agrees.

Wichita State is actually everything that Kentucky was supposed to be – unbeaten,  seeded first in the Midwest Regional, one of the top stories in this NCAA Tournament.

The Shockers are also everything that this Kentucky team wants to be – admired for their selfless play, feared for their barbed wire defense, applauded for the consistency of their performance while winning their first 35 games.

So there's some disrespect to stir up inside the Wildcats' locker room, too.

"We're just trying to play to the best of our ability and just play hard," Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein said. "You know, our Kryptonite is playing hard.

"Wichita State has a bunch of swagger right now going into this game, being undefeated and being as good as they are offensively and defensively."

Score one for Kentucky, too. Most people believe this team has overpromised and under-delivered. Ten losses used to make people howl at Tubby Smith or Billy Gillispie.

If the Wildcats think they're disrespected today, I can't imagine their reaction to what people will say about them if they don't advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Indianapolis, where Louisville awaits.

Both teams can and will play the disrespect card.

But here is what is more important: How will they play the basketball game?

That is a tougher call than usual because UK coach John Calipari remains uncertain about which player he will be able to feature at point guard.

There is tremendous uncertainty about the availability and effectiveness of Andrew Harrison, Kentucky's point guard. He injured his right elbow late in the Wildcats' victory over Kansas State Friday night. Although Harrison said he would try to play, he did not say it like a guy who was convinced he would be able to deliver his usual assertive game, not with an injury to his strong-side arm.

"What if he is 70 percent and I see it?" Calipari said. "And I just say, ‘We can't win with a guy at 70 percent, we're going to have to play without you.' "

If that happens, I expect to see Aaron Harrison at point guard and more minutes for Alex Poythress and Jarrod Polson

Here is the edge for Kentucky: Wichita State has not played many guys with the power of Julius Randle or the looming defensive presence of Cauley-Stein. There are not any players like that in the Missouri Valley Conference, the league that Wichita State dominated.

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber has seen both teams and told me that Wichita State will have to make three-point shots to win the game. The Shockers have four guys who can do that.

What they do with Randle is another question.

Here is the issue for Kentucky: Wichita State truly believes it has better guards – no matter if Kentucky plays Andrew Harrison, Brandon Knight, John Wall or Kyle Macy.

Marshall plays a three-guard set. Fred VanVleet is the ball-handler, leader. Cotton is the defender, enforcer. Baker is the shooter, X-factor. Baker agrees that the Wichita guards must deliver.

"If you watched the K-State game last night, they had some wide open looks throughout the game," Baker said. "That's something we talked about in film today. Once you get your open look, you've got to knock it in."

Should be fun. One team will grab the respect it is allegedly pursuing. The other will go home.

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