Observations: Kentucky's path to Final Four looks eerily familiar
John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats looked lost a month ago. But along comes the SEC and NCAA tournaments and, poof: The Cats are in the Final Four. Same sorta thing happened in 2011.
1. Kentucky's road to Final Four is similar to 2011: Three years ago Kentucky reached the Final Four as a 4-seed after struggling for much of the regular season, especially on the road in conference play. Once the core of that team -- Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, and Terrence Jones -- got onto a neutral floor, became more comfortable and wound up beating Ohio State and North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. That squad was a much better outside shooting team, but the roads these two squads took is very similar. A month ago, John Calipari's team looked like it was done. Now they've beaten Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan in three consecutive games and are headed to the Final Four for the third time in four seasons.
2. Marcus Lee goes from Witness Protection Program to national story: Kentucky fans everywhere woke up Sunday about not having Willie Cauley-Stein against Michigan because of an ankle injury. The truth is the Wildcats didn't need him. Why? Marcus Lee. Who? Exactly. The 6-foot-9 freshman only one minute in the NCAA Tournament entering Sunday's 75-72 win over the Wolverines but he saved his best for the big stage. Lee had 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes. Not bad for a guy who nobody mentioned prior to tip off. There's absolutely no way the Wildcats would be going to North Texas without Lee.
3. Julius Randle now carries the freshman torch: This was supposed to be the season of the freshman. All season long we heard about freshman like Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Jabari Parker (Duke), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), and Tyler Ennis (Syracuse). But the only impact freshman still playing is Kentucky's Julius Randle. The 6-9 power forward had 16 points and 11 rebounds Sunday against Michigan and is the lone marquee freshman left in the greatest event we have in sports.
4. Shabazz Napier cemented his legacy as one UConn's best ever: The senior guard may not have the NBA career of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton or Rudy Gay, but he's has almost single-handedly willed his team into the Final Four. The Huskies were solid for most of the season but without Napier, UConn wouldn't have even competed for an NCAA Tournament bid. In Sunday's 60-54 win over Michigan State, Napier was clearly the best player on the floor with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists. How good has this guy been during the past two weeks? In four NCAA games, Napier is averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals. Napier is also shooting 45 percent overall, 45 percent from 3-point range and 93 percent from the line in the tournament. That's flat-out ridiculous.
5. Arizona has lost in two Elite Eights over four years by two possessions: I didn't fully process this until I woke up Sunday but Sean Miller is literally two shots away from going to two Final Fours in the past four years. In 2011, the Wildcats fell to UConn by two points and missed a winning 3-pointer on the game's final possession. Then on Saturday, Arizona lost by a point in overtime to Wisconsin in a terrific game from start to finish. Miller may still carry the label of being the best coach who has never been to a Final Four, but he's literally two shots away from advancing to the sport's most fabled showcase.
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