COLUMN: It's dance time and nobody wants Louisville

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By Bob Watkins

To say the men’s NCAA Tournament is wide open is like saying Russ Smith won’t take more than 10 shots in the next five minutes ... wherever he is.Pairings for Kentucky three entries? Thumbs up from here.
Louisville as a four seed and Kentucky eight seed in the same bracket is “they don’t like us,” work of the demons of bracketology, right? With bracket-maker conspirators.The “we was robbed!” whine from U of L fans about a four seed? Ignore it. The defending national champions’ perch is perfect.
The “we was robbed!” groan from UK fans about an eight seed, ignore that too. Playing from preseason No. One down to a 10-loss season, the Wildcats earned their eight.
EASTERN KENTUCKY being OVC fodder for Kansas in South Region is no surprise. The Colonels were 20,000-to-1 shots to win the championship.
There is however, soap box-worthy intrigue in the Midwest.
LOUISVILLE. Rick Pitino’s team – only two others in the field are as finely tuned for this dance as U of L – Florida and Wichita State. The Cardinals should have no trouble with Manhattan (Thursday, 7:20 EDT) or St. Louis on their way to second weekend. Oddsmakers make the Cardinals 8-1 to repeat.
An Internet poll question asked: “Who is escaping the Midwest into the Final Four? 37.7 per cent said Louisville, Duke 20.6 and Wichita State 18.3.
KENTUCKY. Coming out of the SEC Tournament, the Wildcats are an early February team. Almost ripe for prime time, but prone to slip back. Oddsmakers say UK is 100-to-1 to win it all.
Strong games against LSU and Georgia and 20 minutes against Florida (outscored the Gators 30-21 in second half), reflect a bunch of boys having arrived at the front porch of starting to “get it.” Arguably a month late, but here comes opportunity.
Kentucky can at least try and erase its image as King of Underachievement 2014, even rekindle legitimacy as a national title contender. That the road is uphill and steep, is fitting.
The way ...
Kansas State has a pedestrian 20-12 record only because the Wildcats played in America’s very best league, the Big 12. To set the stage, Coach Bruce Weber has already spoken the right words.
“ No one expects us to win because we’re playing Kentucky.”
“Just go play basketball, compete and see what happens.”
And, perhaps noting that Florida limited Julius Randle to seven shots and three offensive rebounds in 29 minutes, Self added, “Randle is a tough matchup. ... Maybe we can exploit some of their weaknesses, maybe he does not get the ball quite as much.”
So, opportunity for Kentucky. Keen focus and seasoned enough now, might spell advance to Sunday for the Wildcats.
Next, in an odd bit of irony ...
Wichita State is a 34-0 malcontent. The Shockers have a chip on their shoulders and coach Gregg Marshall has heard all he wants about his team’s lukewarm schedule. Not enough respect, he says.
Behold, here comes Kentucky’s band of freshmen with a chip on their shoulders too, grumpy for having not earned much respect.
So, motivation: Shockers and Wildcats play angry, bent on undoing what both camps perceive as lack of respect.
One thing is certain, if Kentucky and Wichita play, CBS will be pleased and church-goers will too, at being let out early to see the country’s lone unbeaten against college hoops’ winningest program. You know which is which.
If the script mentioned here becomes reality, then I foresee a Sweet 16 rematch of last year’s Final Four, Louisville and Wichita. That one was a beauty, this one would be too.

Florida made it a Kentucky hat trick because Billy Donovan’s team shut down Julius Randle, seven shots and three offensive rebounds in 29 minutes, and Kentucky coaches had no answers.
Thus, Calipari’s circle talk after the SEC title game: “Julius has got to play better, Alex (Poythress) has got to play better. You know what I’m saying? Jarrod (Polson) has got to play better.
“We just got to go play now. It’s what it is. It doesn’t matter what other seeds are now. It’s over. I can be mad about it, you can be mad, everybody can be (mad).”

John Pelphrey. Shopping time. April is two weeks away and the Coaches Carousel is cranking up. Tony Barbee got the axe at Auburn, Stan Heath out at South Florida and Louis Orr at Bowling Green.
With a slew of vacancies to come and Florida’s soaring success (again), I hope John Pelphrey’s name will be on the market again this spring.
In the what goes around, comes around Dept. of high school hoops. An e-mail arrived the other day to say Dixie Heights’ Brandon Hatton had scored his 2,994 point at Dixie Heights with a chance to go make the 3,000 points Club list.
Doesn’t feel like it, but it’s been 27 years since I researched and began the 2,000/3,000 Points Club for Kentucky high school boys and girls. Along the way someone ‘annexed’ my lists and made them their own.
His last free throw clank against Kentucky aside, Florida playmaker Scotty Wilbekin demonstrated again, voters got it right. SEC player of the year.
A statistic nobody will remember except Georgia assistant coaches on the recruiting trail: The Bulldogs are going to the NIT, but they tied Kentucky for second place in the SEC standings, 12-6.

After watching the NCAA Pairings Show, Kentucky freshman Dakari Johnson was asked about “realizing this is one and done?”
“We know it’s our last straw so we just have to go out every game and just compete,” he replied
Last straw. How appropriate.
And so it goes.