“You don’t play against opponents. You play against the game of basketball.” – Bob Knight
“I hate Kentucky.” – Mike Davis
I’ve been thinking about both of those quotes lately as they both strike me as particularly relevant right now. The latter has been a guiding principal in my life for well over 30 years, and it certainly makes our victory on Saturday all the more pleasing, but it’s the former that has been driving my thinking about this game, the next game, and the tournament in general this year.
So, let’s start with that part first.
There were a lot of people who looked at the brackets on Selection Sunday, either after the two hour catastrophe that was the CBS broadcast or during thanks to the leak of the completed brackets early by someone who was, and there’s really no other way to put this, doing the Lord’s work by saving us from the final hour of watching Charles Barkley try to figure out how to fill out a bracket using a touch screen, and thought either,
A five seed?! We got screwed!
This is a really hard bracket. UK and UNC before the Elite 8?!
We may not make it to the second weekend. This sucks.
Or some combination of the three.
And just about everyone I heard on the radio was picking UK to beat IU in the round of 32.
I did think a five seed was a little ridiculous for winning the Big Ten by 2 full games, but it didn’t really bother me all that much. And I was excited to see the UK match up. I miss playing them and if this is how it has to happen, so be it.
After all, UK used to duck UofL every year until they were forced to play each other in the 1983 NCAA tournament (thanks in no small part to Ted Kitchel’s bad back). They called that the Dream Game and it brought about the start of an annual series that is still going strong. Maybe this game puts our yearly tilt back on the schedule. A boy can dream.
I didn’t find our path to Houston to be particularly onerous. After all, the entire season has been built on the top seeds getting beaten by lower ranked teams. There was no one in the tournament that really scared me before the brackets were announced. Why would any match up or placement scare me after it was announced.
Plus there’s this. If this IU team plays the way it is capable of playing and the way it has been playing, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is or what they do. We can win.
I found the conversation about UK game going in a little laughable. When I heard things like, “IU can win if UK has an off night” or “IU can win is UK does this or doesn’t do that” I simply ignored the dependent clause. Our ability to win against UK or UNC or anyone is now dependent on what the other team does. It depends almost entirely on what we do.
Our path to the Final Four hinges not on us playing against our opponents, but rather on us playing against the game itself.
Now, we might lose. UNC is good. And Kansas once shot over 60% against us in the second half of an NCAA tournament game. But our ability to win is on us and how well we do the things we do well.
All that being said.
I still hate UK. I still don’t understand how people choose to support a program that has been built on a foundation of cheating. And it’s a really good day when we beat them.
I don’t like beating UK. I love it. And I would gladly see us do it again tomorrow and the day after and the day after that.
But because of my total certainty that I’m right about this team, this tournament, and this season, I wasn’t overly concerned to see them in the second round. I felt as confident about this game as I did going into the game in December of 2011. And, as per usual, I was right.
I feel just as good going into Friday’s game against UNC. I see no reason why we can’t beat the game of basketball once again and take out a #1 seeded team from North Carolina from the #5 seed.
It’s been a fun tournament thus far, and it could get even more fun in the coming week.