BOZICH | Kentucky -- An NCAA Final Four Team Unlike Any Other
ARLINGTON, Texas (WDRB) – There's never been another Final Four team like this Kentucky basketball team – an eight seed playing like a one seed.
Teams that get to the Final Four after starting the tournament seeded eighth in their regional come to town to pose for pictures with Jim Nantz and Oscar Robertson. Collect your souvenir pins, have a great steak and be home by Sunday morning.
Eight seeds are supposed be first-weekend props. They're closer to the NIT than the Final Four. They're not considered serious contenders.
Too heavy on the hyperbole?
Since the NCAA started seeding this party in 1979, only five other eight seeds made the Final Four. Two – North Carolina and Wisconsin – gave up their hotel rooms after one game in 2000. Two others – UCLA in 1980 and Butler four seasons ago – battled into the championship game.
Then there is Villanova, the only eight seed that achieved what an eight seed is not supposed to achieve – an NCAA title.
That happened in 1985 – in Rupp Arena over Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. The only similarity between that Villanova team and this Kentucky team is that Italian coaches directed both groups.
Kentucky is no Villanova 1985. Villanova has remained the patron saint of NCAA Tournament underdogs. Kentucky remains a 1-point favorite over Wisconsin Saturday night in AT&T Stadium, the main event after the Florida-Connecticut game.
I've collected Final Four numbers that show the best comparison with Kentucky is Lute Olson's 1997 Arizona team, the one that beat Rick Pitino's final UK squad in the national championship game.
The last 16 teams to win the national championship arrived at the Final Four with an average winning margin of at least 10 points per game in their first four NCAA Tournament games.
Last season, Louisville won its first four by 21.8. Two years ago, the Anthony Davis/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist UK team was 13.8 points per game better than its first four opponents.
Tubby Smith's 1998 UK champs were 17.5 points better.
This Kentucky team has won its first four NCAA games by an average of 4.3. Three of its wins were one-possession games in the final minute.
The last team to win a national championship without an average winning margin of 10 points in its first four NCAA games was Arizona. The Wildcats arrived in Indianapolis with an average winning margin of 4.8.
Dig deeper. What this Kentucky team has achieved is more impressive than what Arizona did.
That Arizona team was a four seed. To reach the Final Four, Arizona beat a 13 seed (South Alabama), a 12 (College of Charleston), a 1 (Kansas) and a 10 (Providence). That's chump change. Arizona did its heavy lifting in the Final Four, beating two Number One seeds.
The bracket has not opened for Kentucky the same way it embraced Arizona.
According to the seeds, the Wildcats have beaten the most difficult opponent during every step of the bracket – 9 (Kansas State), 1 (Wichita State), 4 (Louisville) and 2 (Michigan).
In other words, Kentucky has not benefited from an upsets occurring in front of them – until Saturday when the Wildcats face Wisconsin (two seed from the West) instead of top seed Arizona.
In other words, it's risky discounting Kentucky because the Wildcats' margin of victory does not meet the standard of the last 16 champions.
The last 16 champions didn't get here by playing the competition that this Kentucky team played.
Neither have the three other teams in this Final Four.
That was an 11 seed (Dayton) that Florida bounced in the South Regional final. The Gators have won their tournament games by an average of 12.3 points.
That was a 6 seed (Baylor) that Wisconsin handled in the West Regional semifinals. The Badgers have the best average winning margin in this Final Four – 16.5, a number inflated by a 40-point victory over American in the first round.
Connecticut has beaten the two, three and four seeds from the East, but not the one seed. The Huskies have won their first four by an average of 7.8.
Then there is Kentucky.
There's never been a Final Four team like this Kentucky team – an eight seed playing like a one seed.
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