By: Holly FreelandHolly@louisville.com
The field has been announced and the state of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Kentucky faired well, getting three teams into the big dance this year. One was expected, one was hard-earned and the other… a last minute surprise/relief, depending on who you ask. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Kentucky: The Wildcats had a wild year with a new coach, a slew of injuries and a few tough non-conference losses to overcome. They finished the season with a very successful SEC run, going 12-5 in their last 17 games. It has been a long time since Big Blue Nation has been nervous during a Selection Sunday, but they were rewarded with an 11-seed and a match-up with Marquette Thursday afternoon at 2:30.
UK fans will remember (and may still be stinging a little from) the 2003 NCAA tournament match-up with Marquette. The Cats were riding a 26-game winning streak and the overall #1 seed in the tournament when they ran into Marquette and their rising star, Dwayne Wade. They sent the Wildcats home a game shy of the Final-Four, and you can bet the fans are eager for a little revenge. And, if the Wildcats survive their first round? They can look forward to the winner of 2nd-seeded Stanford & Cornell.
Louisville: The Cardinals finished up the season in a somewhat disappointing fashion, losing 2 of their last 5 games. However, it was an incredible stretch of winning games in January and February in a highly competitive Big East conference that gave them the high seeding. Their last two losses in the Big East conference schedule came at a combined total of 5 points, so the Cardinals have every reason to be optimistic about their ability to win big games on the biggest stage.
The Cardinals will play 14th-seeded Boise State Friday night at 9:40 PM. It’s one of the last tip-off games for the first round of games, but it will also give them extra time to prepare. If they are to advance to the second-round, the Cardinals will face either Oklahoma or St. Joseph’s. The Cardinals have arguably the easiest route to the Sweet Sixteen of all the Kentucky schools, where they could face SEC regular season champion Tennessee.
Western Kentucky: The first Kentucky school to celebrate getting in the tournament, and my own Alma Mater, the Hilltoppers will face Drake, the Missouri Valley Tournament Champion. The ‘Toppers had an incredibly successful season, going 27-6 in route to their 12-seed match-up with the 5th-seeded Bulldogs. They’ll tip off Friday at 12:30 PM.
While the Hilltoppers haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2003, the draw for this year couldn’t have come much better for Western. The other 5th-seeds in the brackets are Michigan State, Clemson and Notre Dame, so playing Drake gives Western an opportunity to play a team with a similar mid-major background.
And from the other side of the river…
Indiana: After a scandal-filled season, the Hoosiers return to the NCAA tournament as 8 seed, with possibly the toughest match-up of all of the local schools, as they play 9th-seeeded Arkansas. And if they win? The “reward” is likely opponent, North Carolina, the # 1 seed in the entire tournament.
The tournament committee did no favors to IU in their route to San Antonio, but the Hoosiers have overcome adversity this season already and look to do the same with their dance card.
Out of the four local schools, Louisville has the best chance to go the farthest in this year’s tournament. WKU has the next best shot at advancing to the second round, while the Hoosiers and Wildcats are both looking at tough first games.
Louisville to go to Elite 8, and lose to eventual NCAA 2008 Champion, UNC
Kentucky to get past their 2003 Demons, Marquette but lose to Stanford
Western Kentucky to beat Drake and lose a tough game to UCONN
Indiana escapes Arkansas, but can’t get past UNC in the second round
Memphis will be the first # 1 seed to lose
Tennessee will be the first # 2 seed to lose
Final Four: UNC, UCLA, Kansas & Texas
Final Game: UNC/UCLA with UNC winning it all
You can take that to the bank, or straight to the trash can!