So now what? It’s officially week two of March Madness and unless you have Nostradamus somewhere in your name, your bracket is totally busted. I know you penciled in Georgetown, Kansas and Villanova as no-brainers to advance to the “Sweet 16.” And I know you laughed at the possibility of the Hoyas going out in the first round or the chances of Kansas being ousted by Northern Iowa. You may have even had Maryland pegged for some extra airtime just because you’re familiar with the area. But it wasn’t to be.

In one of the craziest weekends in sports history, it was all blowouts, buzzer-beaters and upsets (sound familiar?). More than 5 million people filled out brackets on and every single bracket filler got theirs wrong. So now what? Now is the time when you seek out a fallback team and “ride or die” with them, that’s what. And if you’re looking for a team to reinvest in, why not the hottest team remaining in the tourney?

The Kentucky Wildcats may not have the experience you would like to see or the Cinderella story you would like to hear, but they sure know how to play ball. Their two first-round opponents were annihilated by 29 and 30 points, respectively, and when it comes to what a complete team should look like, Kentucky’s a full-sized centerfold model.

They have size in the paint. They can score down low and defend inside. They’re deadly in transition. Their backcourt is amazingly athletic. They’re deep, fast and talented and perhaps their most attractive feature—they’re all freshmen. Well, maybe not all of them. But first-year wonders such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe make up the nucleus of a well-oiled machine. The majority of Kentucky’s players have never even played in a NCAA tournament before so the fact that they just pummeled their first pair of opponents makes them a team to fall in love with.

I don’t know what head coach John Calipari had to do or say to reel in one of the best freshmen classes in NCAA history, but whatever he did, kudos to him. Fans love to see Cinderella teams knock out top dogs in the tournament, that’s one of the things that makes March Madness so special. But in reality, watching a “Sweet 16” or a “Final Four” full of 12th and 13th seeds isn’t something fans really want to see.  
People are intrigued by storylines and what better tale than that of the Wildcats: A team that fell from the graces last season only to land in the prestigious NIT, their first appearance in the fallback tournament since 1979. Out goes controversial head coach Billy Gillispie after last season, and in comes the smooth-talking, slick-haired Calipari and his star-laden freshmen class.

Now the Wildcats are back on top of the college basketball world because Calipari, Wall and Cousins have restored the swag back into the bluegrass state. Unlike perennial powers such as Duke, Kansas and North Carolina, it’s almost impossible to root against Kentucky because they haven’t been all that relevant for quite some time. Their last NCAA title came in 1998 and the school’s been the hotspot for ridicule ever since.

And let’s be honest, once Wall, Cousins and possibly Bledsoe declare for the NBA Draft after the season, Kentucky may not be this strong again for quite a while. So think of this Wildcat run as a farewell tour of sorts. I know you might be weary about placing your bets on a team full of kids who couldn’t get into most night clubs, but from a talent standpoint there isn’t a team left in the tourney that can run with Kentucky.

And besides, with your championship favorite Kansas now sitting at home, what other choice do you have?


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO