The newly crowned “Kings of Kansas” hopefully have come down off Cloud Nine and have their feet planted firmly on the ground.
Wichita State, which dissected Kansas’ collection of one-time Top 50 high school prospects for a convincing 15-point victory to grab Sunflower State bragging rights, must put that game out of their minds when they take on Notre Dame tonight in the Sweet 16.
Notre Dame is a lot like Wichita State in that it has flown under the radar. True, it’s a No. 3 seed, but the Fighting Irish — like every other team in the region — has been an afterthought due to the giant shadow cast by mighty Kentucky.
The winner of WSU-Notre Dame, of course, is next in line to face the Bluegrass semipros. Forget the talk of West Virginia’s pressure defense leading to an upset tonight and the fact Bob Huggins has dominated John Calipari in head-to-head meetings. Kentucky is focused on the task at hand and its size will overwhelm the Mountaineers.
Wichita State’s euphoria of knocking off Kansas should have subsided by now. The Shockers simply had too much experience and basketball savvy for KU. I don’t care what anybody says, seniors and juniors have an edge over any team loaded with sophomores and freshmen. Kentucky is the exception, not the rule.
Wichita State gets teams to play its game. Fred VanVleet is a master at the controls with his change-of-pace and cool-demeanor style. Ron Baker is a perfect complement and he shot it much better against KU than he had in recent games. He must play at a high level for the Shockers to have a chance.
Of course, nobody is expecting another out-of-body experience by Evan Wessel, who had four treys against KU. That’s simply not his game. He’s all about making the extra pass, getting on the floor after loose balls and setting screens to get the scorers open.
Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter play much bigger than their size and they’ll have to again tonight. They’ll also need to chip in with 10 or 12 points to take the heat off VanVleet and Baker.
Notre Dame is a good team, a very good team. Its stock has risen since joining the ACC and the competition it played would figure to give it an edge tonight.
But this is Wichita State we’re talking about, the poster child for basketball underdogs. While this is too close to call, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Shockers prevail.
I don’t think WSU can come close to Kentucky this time around after last year’s epic battle, but I’d like to see it at least get the chance.