Mar 27, 2011, 9:44 PM EDT
The Kentucky Wildcats hoops team arguably carries more weight in college basketball than any other program in the country.
Their fans are completely and utterly narcissistic (and that’s a compliment, I swear I’m not trolling!), their media will chase – literally chase – coaches out of town, and their players are treated like royalty in Lexington. So it doesn’t really seem fitting that the Wildcats take on the name of Cardiac Cats, or something like that, en route to their first Final Four appearance since 1998. [Editor's note: That term's been used recently at Kentucky.]
But this go-round the heavyweight isn’t necessarily the favorite, having to down two higher seeded teams and boasting a roster that doesn’t have nearly the star power of the squad that fell one year ago in the Elite Eight.
With that, you can’t not love this team, and you can’t help but laud the coaching of John Calipari during this recent run, capped by a 76-69 win over North Carolina.
Sure freshman Brandon Knight was the most important player on the floor for Cal, and fellow freshman Terrence Jones was the second most important, but it was the unheralded bit pieces that were huge and a blast to watch this weekend.
Down an Enes Kanter from the beginning of the season, a frightened Big Blue Nation turned its eyes to a guy who lost tweeting privileges and embraces jean shorts like he’s a true hillbilly. I’m referring to Josh “Jorts” Harrellson if you’re uninformed, a senior who still has a little bit of baby weight to shed, but has made a strong case for being the toughest player in the entire country.
Over the span of just eight days, Harrellson went toe-to-toe with West Virginia’s Deniz Kilicli, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, and North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller and John Henson, and prevailed in each and every one of those battles.
Of those players, all but maybe Kilicli have an NBA career ahead of them. Harrellson, as much as I’ve grown to love him this season, does not. Consider this “The Best Time of His Life,” and I’m sure he’s totally cool that.
DeAndre Liggins, who could have easily wavered at playing second-fiddle to a handful of highly regarded freshman these past two seasons, was truly a key cog for this team that won the East Region. Liggins came up especially huge for UK this weekend, averaging 13.5 points and weaseling into the deeply rooted Kentucky basketball historical lore. Surely nobody in the Bluegrass State will ever forget that corner three he nailed with just seconds to play; the dagger in the Tar Heels coffin.
I’m not sure that Kentucky will win the national championship, but they certainly have no glaring deficiencies to suggest they can’t cut down the nets in Houston.
At the very least, this is a juggernaut the entire country can root for.
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