DISCLAIMER: All thoughts and opinions are that solely of Dan Kotnik.
For the record, I want it to be said that I was, and have been through the whole tournament, rooting for Wisconsin. I have always loved anything Wisconsin; I picked them to win the whole thing, which means I also picked them to beat Kentucky. With that said, a part of me really wanted to see Kentucky win it all and if the Badgers had lost that’s all I would have wanted to see.
And even though every jabroni with a Twitter handle came out and showed how little they know both about the English language and life in general, you wanted to see it to. Just look at the numbers. The Wisconsin-Kentucky game averaged a 13.3 rating, peaking at 16.6. Something brought you there in record numbers and with all due respect it was not just Frank Kaminski or Sam Decker. 13.3. The World Series, that’s seven games worth of the biggest game of the season, peaked at 9.5. That’s the highest rated Final Four game in 19 years and this wasn’t even the championship game. Now imagine Kentucky facing off with one of the biggest names in Duke tonight.
It’s no secret why you wanted to see Kentucky play. We had a chance to see history in the making, something when looked back on by our kids we could say where we were when it happened. But it wasn’t only watching the Wildcats fight every week to stay perfect and cement themselves in the record books that kept us watching the tournament this year. We were looking for the teams that would get to matchup with Kentucky and have that chance to be the spoilers. After every round, there was at least some talk of which one of those teams had the best chance to matchup with the best team in the country. Deep down, you cared about this tournament slightly more solely due to Kentucky’s unbeaten streak.
And you can hate Kentucky all you want if you really want to; that’s your prerogative. But you at least have to respect what kind of season this was. Kentucky was able to get one of the best coaches ever to stick around in the “amateur” ranks of basketball and has recruited some of the best talents to come through this generation. He was able to convince nine (that’s four more than can play on the court at a time) McDonald’s All-Americans to stay in one place and play together. Not only play together but actually humble themselves in the name of being a team, give up shots or opportunities to further themselves and play extremely well together. And they did it well enough where they didn’t lose until their 39th game in a row. That isn’t extraordinary, that’s other worldly.
Unfortunately, we probably won’t see most of these kids again next year trying to do it all again, but I don’t see it as a negative like so many of the Twitter warriors do. They are the best talent the NCAA has to offer. If it weren’t for the fact they are forced to play one year in college, I’ll bet you there would’ve been at least one of those guys who would have gone straight from high school. What’s in it for them to stay longer? So they could stay one more year, MAYBE win a national championship (which they won’t get paid for doing, but would make everyone else more money) all while risking a season-, or God forbid a career-, ending injury and see their only chance to make money off their talent disappear like that? There is absolutely zero to gain for them to stay longer. So why would you resent them furthering their professional careers? Do you resent the best musicians dropping out of school to focus on their careers?
This is the system. Kentucky losing doesn’t prove that a program that thrives in a one-and-done system is somehow less of a team or inferior to teams that don’t. It’s a percentage game. Kentucky is one of the very, very few teams that can recruit and utilize the one-and-done system the way they have, competing against pretty much an entire field of teams that can’t do what they do. Obviously the chances of Kentucky winning every year are much smaller to one of those teams that “do it right”; that’s just statistics. Kentucky has taken the rules that everyone is playing with and found a way to play inside them better than the rest of the teams can. As the old adage goes, “don’t hate the player, hate the game”.
Kentucky was the team that college basketball needed. College basketball is not as popular as it appears to be in March. According to a Harris Poll, college basketball ranks behind NASCAR and the NHL as what fans call their favorite sport. If it weren’t for the success of the tournament, and in almost an equally important way the gambling on the tournament, college basketball would never even cross our minds. We should be lucky to have teams like Kentucky to be successful and provide an important storyline to follow, and for those of us that prefer summarizing all of their thoughts in 140 characters, hashtags and nasty, uneducated word choices, Kentucky is the villain that people will love to hate. Either way, thank you, Kentucky, for giving us a great season of college basketball and a reason to watch the tournament other than watching our bracket burns.