The other Wildcats have a shot in St. Louis, too

The Wichita Eagle

I want to apologize to the Kansas State basketball players, coaches, fans, administrators, Bill Snyder, the mayor of Manhattan and to anyone who loves or promotes the color purple, including Oprah Winfrey, Barney and the Purple People Eaters from the old-school Minnesota Vikings.

Like so many on Sunday, I was guilty of not giving the Wildcats’ basketball team the respect it deserves. When I saw your 8-9 game with Kentucky pop up during the NCAA Tournament selection show, I immediately dismissed your chances against those other Wildcats, recognizing that the winner of that game likely gets the Midwest Regional’s No. 1 seed, Wichita State, in the third round this weekend in St. Louis.

It pains me to say that automatically assumed Kentucky would win the game against K-State, even though that’s a ridiculous assumption. Given some time to reflect, I realize that now. I got way ahead of myself.

Like a lot of people, the mention of Kentucky basketball bowls me over. It’s the tradition, the whole Adolph Rupp thing.

The potential of Kentucky being Wichita State’s opponent overwhelmed me.

Against anyone else, the biggest story of Sunday would have been the chance of a Kansas State-Wichita State game in St. Louis on Sunday for a trip to the Sweet 16. It would have been the biggest KSU-WSU game in 50 years, since the Wildcats knocked off the Shockers for a berth in the Final Four in 1964 at the Roundhouse.

But Kentucky appeared on that 8 line and it was like a tsunami had struck. Kansas State got washed out of my mind and out of the discussion. That’s not right.

K-State has a legitimate chance against Kentucky, which has been one of the most inconsistent quality teams in the country this season. Yes, Kentucky has as much or more tradition than anyone else. This is the Wildcats’ 53rd NCAA Tournament appearance and that’s nine more than second-place North Carolina. Kentucky has won 111 tournament games, three more than the Tar Heels. It has been to 15 Final Fours, three fewer than Carolina and two fewer than UCLA.

What we tend to forget, or at least devalue, is that this particular Kentucky team is like a preschool. Five freshmen and two sophomores get almost all of the playing time. All are talented, of course, but this has not worked out as well as the Wildcats, the preseason No. 1 team, had hoped.

Basketball people compared this Kentucky freshman class to the one that led the Wildcats to the 2012 national championship withMichael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Anthony Davis. That team also included sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, but was tied together by a hardened senior, Darius Miller, who time after time was referred to by Coach John Calipari as the glue that held it all together.

This Kentucky team has no glue. It often flaps in the wind and at times drives Calipari batty because of its wild play.

Kentucky has the talent to put it all together over three weekends and win the national championship. Kansas State, no matter what, isn’t going to win a national championship. It doesn’t have that kind of ability.

But in one game, over a couple of hours, K-State has a chance. And it was wrong of me, and others, to look right over the Cats.

Kansas State has Marcus Foster and he might be the best freshman on the floor at the Scottrade Center for this game Friday night. K-State has a lot more experience than Kentucky, but who doesn’t? A guy like Thomas Gipson will be giving away size in this one, but his savvy could cause Kentucky’s bigger inside guys fits.

Seniors Will Spradling and Shane Southwell might not have the vertical leap or foot speed of their Kentucky counterparts. But their brains are filled with all kinds of tricks of the trade designed to short circuit youthful minds with limited recourse.

Kentucky, which started five freshmen in the SEC championship game Sunday against Florida, is nowhere near a lock to get to Wichita State. The Wildcats can be had, as they’ve been had twice this season by Arkansas, which didn’t even get to the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky lost a game to South Carolina, of all teams. I thought the beyond-frustrated Calipari wasn’t going to announce his resignation after that one.

So, once again K-Staters, accept my apology. When I saw Kentucky’s name on that 8-line Sunday, something happened to me. I got all tingly inside because of that program’s long history of NCAA Tournament success.

Kansas State isn’t exactly chopped liver when it comes to tradition, either. I know that now. I have my wits about me.