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Barnburners or Beatdowns

Barnburners or Beatdowns

Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Andrew Harrison (5) shoots against Louisville Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell in the first half in the semifinals of the midwest regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

by Dan the Fan

Posted on March 31, 2014 at 9:54 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 31 at 10:36 PM

Which type of games would you rather your team win on the way to the Final 4?

Barnburners or Beatdowns

In the 2012 Men’s NCAA basketball tournament, the Kentucky Wildcats, led by coach John Calipari and some outstanding freshman stormed their way to the final 4.  In those four victories, not one was closer than 12 points. Wildcat fans went crazy.

In the 2014 Men’s NCAA basketball tournament, the Kentucky Wildcats, led by coach John Calipari and some outstanding freshman stormed their way to the final 4.  In those four victories, not one was by more than 7 points.  Wildcat fans are going crazy.

But pressed which would you prefer: Total domination by your team or some of the most thrilling, gut-wrenching games in recent memory and your team coming out on top in all of them?

There’s something to be said for the way Anthony Davis and the 2012 Cats won. The games were never in doubt, allowing fans to relax and really puff out their chests. Winning is fun and most nights with that team, the fun started early.  It was impressive to watch, but lacked drama, isn’t the drama part of why we love sports?

In 2012, Kentucky’s toughest opponent on the road to the Final weekend of college hoops was an Indiana team that defeated them earlier in the season.  While they played the 8,4 and 3 in 2012.  This year’s run they have had to face the top possible seeds in each round. By now it is well-documented that they are the first team to beat 3 of the previous season’s final 4 including the defending champion and runner up.

Big Blue fans are really a charmed bunch when you think about it. After years of their team bullying on the rest of country, and the fans claiming those spoils;  Kentucky, a program with 8 national titles and more wins than any other program in NCAA history, has somehow been able to give their fans a Cinderella run.

What’s more, this 2014 team has played three of the most thrilling basketball games anyone can remember.  .Everyone was raving about the Wichita State game from over a week ago, only to have it matched Friday night against Louisville and maybe surpassed Sunday against Michigan. 

I can’t tell you any of those three Kentucky opponents deserved to lose, but I would definitely say Kentucky deserved to win.  I do think that the Kentucky fans are having more fun this year, as evidenced by the crowds on the streets in Lexington- this time just to qualify for the quarter and semi-finals, not for a championship.  So if couch burning and street revelry is any indication, barnburners is the way to entertain the people.

Commonwealth Clash Notes:

-What an outstanding basketball game Friday night.  For 10 minutes it looked like the Wildcats from February had returned at an awful moment for them.  Meanwhile the Cards were looking every bit the defending champions posting a 13 point lead in the first ten minutes.  Then a combination of stepped up play for the Cats and missed opportunity by Louisville led to an even game at half…and, well, I don’t need to rehash the whole game, you know by now.   

Probably the best rivalry game since the 2004 Patrick Sparks free throw game, only the rivalry has been amped up five fold in the last ten years and this game had so much more at stake. (a co-worker reminds me about Edgar Sosa's 30 foot 3 in 2009- how could I forget?)  Big shots were flying everywhere Friday night, none bigger than the Aaron Harrison dagger with 40 seconds remaining that put Kentucky up to stay.  The Dan the Fan neighbors, who had the game projected on a ten foot screen in the back yard, hooted and hollered, not caring a lick for the infant sleeping next door or the five year old asleep in my house.  It was an awesome game.

-Before typing too much more about the game, a word needs to be said about the departing Louisville seniors Russ Smith and Luke Hancock (no disrespect to Louisville’s own Tim Henderson or Stephen Van Treese).  Smith and Hancock played as well as you would want departing star seniors to play and it just wasn’t enough.  Entire columns could be dedicated to these two (and others have done just so), I just wanted to put in a word here about two class act players, going out in a style befitting them.

I am bullish on Russ as an NBA point gaurd.  In the NBA, every team needs a point gaurd who can score, and a point gaurd who can score in bunches is evebn more valuable.  Smith may be under sized, but he is quick, can score in a variety of ways and is confident.  It will not surprise me to see him making contributions in the NBA for years to come.

-In the myriad of hype leading up to the game last week, everyone was trying to figure out what X factor would turn the contest.  We heard points off turnovers or fouls.  Some people called out names of unsung players who could step up. Mangok Mathiang? Dakari Johnson?

Did anyone say the name Dominique Hawkins?  His statline was 15 minutes and a lot of zeros.  So how did he change the game?  He locked up on Russ Smith and Luke Hancock (when called upon) and was the X factor that slowed what at times was a potent Louisville attack. 

Then in the Elite 8, Marcus Lee plays the role of unexpected x factor.  Major contributions from bench players who did not provide them all year- it is no wonder the Wildcats are suddenly the talk of the nation.

-Speaking of talk, when I was running my Saturday errands (you know, hardware store, paint store, grocery etc. married dude in his 30’s etc.) I could not go anywhere without hearing folks talking about the game.  At the end of the game, 82.5% of the TVs on in  the city had that game on…amazing.  Anyway, I was struck with the omni-present nature of the basketball discussion as well as how dominant Cards fans were in a city that is famously divided, and you would have thought the Cats fans would have been loud and proud if they got the chance.