The NCAA Tournament — by its sheer design — creates wonderful storylines and incredible sideshows each and every season. For three rounds, small schools most folks have never heard of take down a few giants. Then over the last three rounds, the biggest fish swallow up the remaining guppies which leaves coaches to face their old schools, local rivals to meet, and feuding program-runners to do battle with one another.
Thanks to Louisville’s tight win over Florida on Saturday and Kentucky’s blowout victory over Baylor yesterday, all three of those things will occur in New Orleans at the Final Four:
Coach facing old school: Check. Rick Pitino versus Kentucky.
Local rivals meeting: Check. Kentucky versus Louisville.
Feuding coaches doing battle: Check. John Calipari versus Pitino.
The only downside to this Battle of the Bluegrass State? It’s slated for the national semifinals and not the actual final game. And let’s face facts, that would be an even bigger, even better storyline.
Kentucky’s run this season has been dominant. Calipari is looking for his first ever national title. What could be better for Cat fans than capturing their first national crown since 1998 against Louisville and ex-UK coach Pitino?
On the flipside, imagine the pain Kentucky fans would feel if their latest “best shot” at a title was undone by those same Cards and that same turncoat — in most Cat fans’ eyes — coach.
Even in a sport that gives us electric, emotional storylines every March, such a set-up would provide the potential for the greatest mood swing in modern sports history. Toss in the fact that there’s little love lost between Coach Cal and Ricky P and the finals would shatter television ratings records across the Commonwealth.
Don’t get me wrong, Saturday’s matchup will still be a doozy and one bitter rival will send the other bitter rival packing. Calipari or Pitino will still block the other’s pursuit of a title.
Oh, but if that Kentucky-Louisville game were still a possibility for Monday’s championship game? Bedlam. Complete and utter bedlam. Suicide hotlines would have to add extra staffing. Police in Louisville and Lexington would have to unbox their riot gear in preparation.
Saturday will be fantastic for basketball fans inside and outside Kentucky’s state lines. But a clash in Monday’s finals would have been seismic. If only those brackets could be redrawn today.