Dredging up the revenge story for Sunday’s Wichita State-Kentucky game comes with a warning. Most of the players weren’t around for the classic 2014 NCAA Tournament meeting.
That’s the transitory nature of college basketball, even for Wichita State.
None of the 17 players who played in Kentucky’s 78-76 win in St. Louis are on the current rosters. Kentucky seniors Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis are still Wildcats. For Wichita State, it’s junior Shaq Morris, a redshirt in 2013-14, and seniors Zach Bush and J.R. Simon.
That won’t stop Sunday’s game, which tips around 1:40 p.m. (CBS), from earning hype as an early landmark of the tournament. The 2014 game featured eight future NBA players, a high-level exchange of big shots and seeding controversy.
The rematch will be irresistible for a national audience, especially after a first round light on drama.
In 2014, No. 8 Kentucky and its NBA-ready roster seemed an unfair match for top-seeded Wichita State. Now, it’s the 10th-seeded Shockers (31-4) with a chance to upset the second-seeded Wildcats (30-5).
It is the second NCAA rematch in 14 appearances for the Shockers, who defeated Kansas in 1981 and 2015. Now they get a second shot at another of college basketball’s elite.
“We've definitely seen them play,” Wichita State junior Zach Brown said after defeating Dayton on Friday. “Everybody's seen Kentucky play.”
The Wildcats defeated 15th-seeded Northern Kentucky 79-70 and didn’t look like an overwhelming opponent in Friday’s late game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We’re going to have to play much better to be in the game with (the Shockers),” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Wichita is tough, physically. Veterans. They play hard. ”
The Wildcats missed 14 of their 17 three-pointers. Northern Kentucky, down double digits most of the second half, cut the lead to 70-62 with 2:02 remaining.
The Wildcats, as usual, are loaded with future NBA players. Draftexpress.com ranks freshman guard De’Aaron Fox as the No. 5 pick in the NBA Draft. Freshman guard Malik Monk is No. 8. Freshman center Bam Adebayo is No. 27.
Fox scored 19 points and committed six turnovers. Adebayo scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. Guard Isaiah Briscoe scored 17 points and had eight rebounds.
“They have guys that can take you off the bounce at any time,” Brown said. “They're really good defensively, and they get out in transition so we're really going to have to get back — it's going to be a grind.”
On Friday, Shocker assistants Greg Heiar and Kyle Lindsted scouted Kentucky from press row. Graduate assistant Nick Jones helped by entering notes into a computer scouting program. The Shockers will practice Saturday before returning to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for interviews.
Brown spent the 2013-14 season at Sunrise Christian Academy, committed to play for WSU. He knows enough to get in the spirit.
“It's going to be a classic game,” he said.
Wichita State vs. Kentucky
When: Approx. 1:40 p.m. Sunday
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Records: WSU 31-4, UK 30-5