Mississippi State should've been in the tournament. They were 4th overall in the SEC, cracked the top 25 for a couple of weeks this season, and in the conference tournament put away Florida (who did get in and was 6th in the conference), Vanderbilt (ranked and 3rd in conference) and nearly knocked off Kentucky to win the whole thing. It won't surprise me one bit if they beat North Carolina in the NIT this weekend.
The Syracuse Injury
They should have no problem rolling past Vermont, but it will be interesting since Vermont and Syracuse have a history. Vermont upset them as a #13 seed to #4 seed Syracuse in the 2005 tournament. Could this be the year that a #16 seed finally beats a #1 seed? On the whole doubtful, but without Onuaku, it's not outside the realm of possibility. Losing a 65% FG completer is not something Syracuse, or anyone, can afford right now. At any rate, they will certainly have their hands full with Florida St. or perennial overachievers, Gonzaga, in the second round. There's a very good chance that Syracuse won't make it out of the second round.
I still don't see it happening. They certainly have the talent and coach to pull it off, but they don't have the seasoning of a team like Kansas or Duke. There are a lot of people trying to compare this team to the Michigan Fab Five. I'll grant you they may have more talent than that team, and definitely bigger, but I don't see the discipline and dedication. I'll be in front of the TV rooting Kentucky all along the way, but I see Kentucky out of it by the Sweet 16 or Elite 8.
Here's the bottom line: if a team can contain Cousins (and several have) Kentucky struggles. Cousins' inexperience begins to show. He's not used to being contained. I'm sure in high school no team could. On top of that, he's stubborn and too many times insists on trying to make the shot when he's double/triple teamed rather than dishing it off to the open man. I mean, if you have three guys on you, SOMEONE is open on the perimeter. He makes the smart play sometimes, but more often than not he a) gets fouled and struggles at the stripe, b) gets the ball tied up, or c) gets the ball stripped away. Then he gets frustrated and tries even harder and the cycle of failure and frustration continues and it begins to show on the defensive side in fouls which puts him on the bench for most of the game.
Cousins has proved all year he can't break that cycle, so I'm not really expecting him to magically start doing it now.
The Argument for Cousins and Wall To Stay
This is a) a pipe dream and b) not practical for either guy, but I think there is an argument to be made. Cousins and Wall both would benefit from the discipline and experience of another year of college ball, Cousins in particular as evidenced above. I don't begrudge either of them for taking off for the NBA. A year of earning millions of dollars in an industry where you're lucky if you have a 10-15 good years, rather than risking injury in another year of college ball, is probably the way to go. I also doubt seriously that Coach Cal is doing anything to convince either of them that they would benefit from another year. Part of what makes him such a successful recruiter for these "one and dones" is that he gives them a place to showcase their talent and facilitates a quick transition to the pros. Both players are expected to go in the first 10 picks, with Wall undoubtedly being the number one pick in the draft. It's unlikely either will pass up the opportunity.
That said, both would have a greater chance for more successful professional careers with another year at the college level. When talking about Wall, a lot of people capriciously use the phrase "next Jordan". There's no doubt the kid has a ton of talent, and when comparing freshmen seasons between the two, Wall actually has more PPG than Jordan had, and Wall is a point guard compared to Jordan's shooting guard position. Wall is also a better free throw shooter than Jordan was. But if Wall jumps to the pros he'll never have some of the amateur experiences which made Jordan what he was: namely, leading his team to a National Title and leading the U.S. to an Olympic Gold medal. Jordan went pro after his junior year. In addition to his talent, I believe it was these experiences which made Jordan as great as he was. Wall has the potential to be that great, and may very well still be. I just think that by going pro after just one year he will miss some really great character building opportunities.
Of course, there's no doubt Patterson should go after his junior year this year. He'll likely go in the top ten of the draft and the dude graduated in three years. There's really nothing else left for him to do except win a National Title. The only way I see him staying is if Wall and Cousins stayed and tried to make a run for the title next year.
Dunkadelic Phat Five
Despite the stupid name, there is royalty in college basketball. Of the 347 teams in Division I college basketball, five teams, comprised of Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, and UCLA have regular and post season traditions that are hard to deny. For the past 22 years, at least one of these teams has been in the Final Four; 40 out of the last 44 years. Of those 22 years, a Phat 5 team won the NCAA Championship game 11 times. All-time, the Phat 5 have won 29 of the 71 NCAA tournaments. Kansas, Duke, and Kentucky all have great shots at being in the Final Four again this year, so it's likely that tradition will go unbroken for a 23rd straight year. Kansas and North Carolina won the last two Championships. There's a really great chance that streak could go to 3 by the end of this tournament. Not surprisingly, the Phat 5 hold the top 5 of the top 6 spots for the most wins in the tourney:
North Carolina: 5
Of course, the greatest of them all is Kentucky. Just for fun, here's Kentucky's impressive all-time and current stats:
Number of Wins: 2020 (#1 NCAA), also the first school to reach both the 1000 and 2000 win plateaus.
All-time win percentage: 76% (#1 NCAA)
NBA draft picks all-time: 92 (#2 NCAA)
All-Americans: 50 (#1 NCAA)
Final AP Poll Top Ten: 39 (#1 NCAA)
Final AP Poll #1: 8 (#1 NCAA)
20 Win seasons: 54 (#1 NCAA)
30 Win seasons: 12 (#1 NCAA)
35 Win seasons: 3 (#1 NCAA)
Total non-losing seasons (.500): 93 (#2 NCAA)
Holds record for consecutive non-losing seasons (.500): 60 (1927-1987); current streak, 23 years.
Number of Coaches With a NCAA Championship: 4 (#1 NCAA)
Conference Regular Season Champions: 44 (#2 NCAA)
Conference Tournament Championships: 26 (#1 NCAA)
National Attendance Titles: 22 (#1 NCAA)
Consecutive games with a three-point shot scored: 744 (current, and #3 NCAA)
Holds record for consecutive home wins: 129 (1943-1955)
Holds record for largest NCAA Tournament combined point differential: +129 points (1996)