Mark Story: As long as UK shows up, WKU will fall

herald-leadersports columnistMarch 14, 2012 

  • Close calls

    A No. 16 seed has not beaten a No. 1 seed in 108 tries dating to 1985, when the tournament was expanded to 64 teams. Here are games in which the No. 16 seed came within fewer than 10 points of winning:

    1997

    North Carolina 82 Fairfield 74

    1996

    Purdue 73 Western Carolina 71

    Connecticut 68 Colgate 59

    1989

    Oklahoma 72 East Tenn. St. 71

    Georgetown 50 Princeton 49

    Illinois 77 McNeese St. 71

    1990

    Michigan St. 75 Murray St. 71 (OT)

    Oklahoma 77 Towson 68

    1986

    St. John's 83 Montana State 74

    Duke 85 Miss. Valley St. 78

    1985

    Michigan 59 Fairleigh Dickinson 55

LOUISVILLE — It's called March Madness, so let's indulge just a moment in some crazy talk.

Could No. 16-seeded Western Kentucky University stun No. 1-overall NCAA Tournament seed Kentucky when the intrastate foes meet Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament round of 64 in Louisville?

There is almost no metric to suggest it is even possible.

Since 1985, there have been 108 matchups between No. 1 seeds and No. 16s — and No. 1s are 108-0.

A No. 16 seed hasn't played a No. 1 to a single-digit defeat since 1997 (North Carolina 82, Fairfield 74).

Even by the non-competitive standards of 1 against 16, Kentucky (33-2) versus Western (16-18) looks like an epic mismatch. According to the Pomeroy Rating System, Kentucky is the best team in the country; Western ranks 191st.

So, even applying crazy talk, how can a WKU victory even be contemplated?

Let us count the ways:

1. Western could win because the U.S. hockey team — Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!! — beat the Russians, Chaminade beat Virginia and Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson.

2. Western could win because, maybe Jim McDaniels and Clarence Glover ARE walking through that door (kids, ask your parents about WKU 107, UK 83).

3. Western could win because new Hilltoppers head man Ray Harper has coached in a staggering nine college national championship games (six NCAA Division II, three NAIA).

To put that in perspective, the University of Kentucky — the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball, as they say in Rupp Arena — has played in 10 NCAA title games in all of its regal hoops history.

4. Western could win because, for all the futility 16s have had against 1s, the 16s have had some near misses.

Of those 108 defeats, 11 times the No. 16 seed lost by fewer than 10 points.

5. Western could win because Ken Pomeroy, the basketball statistics guru, wrote a blog post this week whose headline was "This is the year a 1 loses to a 16."

Pomeroy noted that, by the numbers, the odds of a 1 losing to a 16 are roughly the same as all the chances of all four No. 1 seeds making the Final Four.

In 2008, all four No. 1s did it.

6. Western could win because WKU guard and Louisville product Jamal Crook "doesn't care if (UK is) a No. 1 seed. They lace up their shoes just like we do."

(Problem with that one is, the Cats have to bend over a lot farther than the 'Toppers do to achieve that lacing.)

7. Western could win because, if UK is up by "only" 15 or 20 points with, say, five minutes left in the game, the Hilltoppers will think they have the Cats right where they want them.

In the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, WKU was down 13 to Arkansas-Little Rock with 8:54 left — and won.

In the SBC finals, Western was down 13 to North Texas with 12:45 left — and won.

Monday night before President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and a stunned University of Dayton Arena crowd, the 'Toppers trailed Mississippi Valley State by 16 with 4:52 left — and won.

"Something people don't understand about us, is we never stop fighting," said Western freshman guard Derrick Gordon.

8. Western could win because there's always a puncher's chance, and the oldest cliche in sports starts "on any given day ..."

Of course, here's the thing.

Kentucky is really good.

The Cats are steamed, coming off that upset loss to Vanderbilt in the finals of the SEC Tournament and somebody is likely to pay.

"I'm still mad about it," Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said. "Don't know about everybody else. But I am."

UK point guard Marquis Teague talks like the Cats are well aware that there will be a special place in sports infamy for the first No. 1 that goes down to a 16. "We don't want to be that team," Teague said.

So, it's not crazy talk to say that, some day, a 16 will beat a 1.

But that time isn't going to be Thursday in the KFC Yum Center.

Says UK star Anthony Davis: "I think if we just go out and play, we'll be fine."

Yep.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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