What I Learned From St. Louis: Kentucky Wildcats and Stanford Cardinal
The SI.com writers who covered the first weekend of the NCAA tournament offer their takeaways on each of the teams from their sites that advanced to the Sweet 16:
Other sites: Buffalo (UConn and Dayton) | Milwaukee (Michigan and Wisconsin) | Raleigh (Virginia and Tennessee) | Orlando (Florida and Louisville | San Antonio (Iowa State and Baylor) | San Diego (Arizona and UCLA) | St. Louis (Kentucky and Stanford) | Spokane (Michigan State and San Diego State)
Seed: No. 8 in Midwest
The super-freshmen remain -- or at least a few of them do. After seeing Duke's Jabari Parker, Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid and Syracuse's Tyler Ennis all bow out with early exits over the weekend, Kentucky served as a five-freshman reminder that 18- and 19-year-olds can, indeed, lead their teams deep into the tournament. On the same court where Wiggins had scored just four points -- to accompany four turnovers -- just moments before, Wildcats forward Julius Randle looked like a consummate NBA player on Sunday against Wichita State, evoking comparisons to Zach Randolph.
This all, of course, makes John Calipari chuckle with mirth. His season isn't a bust after all, and he might just be right when he tells the world that his team is coming together at the perfect time. It's almost like he planned it this way, just to toy with basketball, because he's John Calipari, and he can do that. Heading into the Wildcats' matchup against Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen, Cal's squad is as hungry as it is healthy. Andrew Harrison's hyperextended elbow proved only a minor blip, and he was able to play, and play well (20 points), on Sunday, just as he's likely to going forward.
If Kentucky has indeed found some measure of consistency, watch out. They're a wolf in sheep's clothing, or a two-seed masquerading as an eight, and after winning what their coach termed an "Elite Eight game" against Wichita State, the Wildcats are getting their fair share of tournament experience, and fast.
Seed: No. 10 in South
Results: Beat No. 7 New Mexico 58-53; beat No. 2 Kansas 60-57
There may not have been liquor hidden in Stanford's tubas, but apparently, the Cardinal didn't need any. There would be no drowning of sorrows after Sunday's matchup with Kansas, not after Josh Huestis and company muscled their way past Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks and into the Sweet Sixteen. A 10-seed, Stanford is looking more and more like it should have been rated higher, and with a rendezvous with fellow upstart Dayton next on its Dance-card, the Cardinal may find themselves moving into the Elite Eight.
On Sunday, Stanford managed to neutralize the Jayhawks by throwing a zone defense at them. Unable to do anything in the paint, the Kansas resorted to an intense press, which the Cardinal eventually broke -- although it wasn't pretty. In fact, not much that Stanford did was anything approaching pretty, but it was methodical in its approach, exploiting Kansas' weaknesses and shutting down Andrew Wiggins (four points on 1-of-6 shooting), which proved to be just enough. The Cardinal will need a similar defensive showing to survive the South Regional.
For a team without a single minute of tournament play under its belt before this season, one might think that experience would be stumbling block for Stanford, but so far, Johnny Dawkins's players look as poised, if not more so, than their younger, flashier opponents. In his sixth year on the Farm, Dawkins felt the pressure to take his team to the tournament for the first time in his tenure -- his first time as a head coach -- and he delivered by finally capitalizing on his own storied career. Regaling his team with the tale of a crying teammate after a career-ending loss lit a fire under the Cardinal's proverbial behind, and with the feel-good stories dropping like flies, Stanford has a good chance of finding itself as the final underdog standing.
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