by Kent Sterling
Now that the Indiana State Legislature and governor have learned arrogance never pays, now the nation can turn its attention to basketball rather than a neanderthal attempt to marginalize the LGBT community. Ignorance was revealed, corrected, and now Indiana has enacted its first protection of LGBTs as a class.
Winning comes in many ways and forms in government, but basketball is different. Winning and losing depends upon points scored, not enlightening the sadly narrow-minded.
Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets in Indianapolis Monday night because they have a historically talented roster of players, most of whom will earn millions very soon in the NBA. The Wildcats are tall, long, generous, well-rested, and coached well enough to beat teams without access to similar prowess. UK is 38-0 and will try this weekend to become the first team to go undefeated since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.
Their first hurdle will be their toughest. Wisconsin is a unique team with size, talent, and a precision to their play that is rare. Anchored by likely National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky – a seven-footer with the ability to shoot from distance, and Sam Dekker – a disciplined and athletic player with a long NBA career ahead of him.
But Wisconsin isn’t about their parts. This is a machine with five equally important cogs operating as one.
The key to Wisconsin is their ability to execute their game plan to virtual perfection. All little things must be done correctly by all five players simultaneously, or Kentucky could overwhelm them. Miss a block-out, give up a put back. Set sloppy screens, the offense grows stagnant. Make dull cuts, turn the ball over. Miss open shots, give up buckets in transition the other way.
Kentucky can overcome mistakes with physical dominance. Wisconsin cannot.
Duke and Michigan State is a different game. Sparty wasn’t supposed to be here. A seven-seed with 11 losses – one of those in East Lansing to Mike Davis’s Texas Southern team – this looked like a rebuilding year for Tom Izzo as likely to end in the NIT without as a seventh Final Four for the emotional leader.
While the Wisconsin vs. UK game is a rematch of their Final Four game last year (a one-point UK win), Sparty and Duke played earlier this season. That game was won 81-71 by Duke because the Blue Devils made 14 more free throws. Free throws have been a problem for the Spartans all season, and might cause trouble again tomorrow night.
Michigan State ranked 336th of 351 Division One teams this season by converting only 63.1% of their foul shots. Over the course of the season, the Spartans were outscored at the line by 124 points. You don’t think free throws are important? Ask Mike Brey about the three FTs missed by his Fighting Irish down the stretch of the Elite Eight game won 68-66 by Kentucky last Saturday.
Matching up the teams reveals athletic advantages virtually everywhere for the Dukies, but the talent Mike Krzyzewski (coaching in his 12th Final Four) has at his disposal is young. Kahlil Okafor, Justice Winslow, and Tyus Jones are all freshmen, and while talent is coveted, a little experience and maturity is nice too. Quinn Cook is a senior leader, but can he get his freshmen to rise to the occasion?
Michigan State has senior leadership from Brandon Dawson and Travis Trice, and more experience from juniors Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello.
The real winners in Indianapolis will be the fans who converge on the city for a weekend of fun. Rihanna, Zac Brown, and Imagine Dragon will headline three days and nights of concerts to add to the basketball fun, and because of the idiocy caused by the ill-timed passage of the ill-conceived RFRA that caused such a ruckus, Hoosiers are going to be especially concerned with making sure visitors understand what hospitality is.
At their worst, Indianapolis hosts are as nice as anyone on the planet. This weekend, natives will treat fans from around the country like family (or “kin” for those from Kentucky).
As always, we will be in the middle of it beginning at 3p with a live broadcast from the Tin Roof at the corner of Maryland and Penn – just north of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Pacers will fight for their playoff lives tonight and Sunday.
Talk about madness, there’s plenty everywhere downtown this weekend. From Lucas Oil Stadium to the Fieldhouse to the Statehouse to White River State Park (the site of the music festival), Indianapolis is filled to the brim with crazy this weekend.
Heart prediction – Wisconsin over Kentucky; Michigan State over Duke; Michigan State over Wisconsin
Brain prediction – Kentucky, Duke, Kentucky!
(Kent hosts the Kent Sterling show afternoons from 3p-6p on CBS Sports 1430 in Indianapolis.)