|Chris Allen played in three NCAA tourneys at Michigan State before transferring to Iowa State. (US Presswire)|
LOUISVILLE -- Twitter blew up as soon as the South Regional bracket was unveiled on Sunday night seconds after people caught a glimpse of the potential matchup in the round of 32: top-ranked Kentucky against the defending national champs and underachieving UConn Huskies.
The rematch from last year's Final Four. A pair of coaches with no shortage of disdain for one another in John Calipari and Jim Calhoun. Lottery picks littered all over the court. Two teams ranked in the top five in the preseason going toe-to-toe -- not in New Orleans, as some anticipated back in November, but on the first weekend of the Big Dance.
I'll admit that it's the matchup I've circled and pleaded for -- and I guarantee I'm not alone. However, have we forgotten that Connecticut still has to get past a certain Big 12 team, one that has knocked off Kansas and Baylor, just to get to the Wildcats?
"They'd better hold up," Iowa State star Royce White said Friday afternoon with a smile when asked about everyone expecting and yearning for a UConn-Kentucky matchup on Saturday.
Iowa State enters Thursday night's matchup as the higher-ranked team. The Cyclones have won more games than the Huskies overall. They have White, the lone player in nation to lead a team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks, as well as Chris Allen -- who has more NCAA tournament experience than anyone else currently dancing. These guys earned the No. 3 seed in last week's Big 12 tourney while UConn went in as the ninth-seed in the Big East tournament, having to play DePaul on Tuesday afternoon to open the event.
Fred Hoiberg's team has been clearly superior to UConn this season, yet no one is giving this group of second-chance guys any shot.
"We've been the underdog all year," White added. "It's nothing new to us. In fact, it's better for us -- maybe UConn will overlook us."
UConn is saying all the right things despite walking around the Storrs campus constantly being grilled about Kentucky.
"Are you ready to play Kentucky?" Andre Drummond said has been the question of the last couple days. "I'm like, 'We still have to win against Iowa State and that's no cakewalk.'"
|More college hoops coverage|
No, it's not. Especially for a UConn team that has been an enigma all year long. However, the Huskies remain intriguing with a Hall of Fame coach and a couple of likely lottery picks in Drummond and Jeremy Lamb. Just imagine a Drummond-Anthony Davis battle up front, which could wind up being the first two guys who shake David Stern's hand in June's NBA Draft. The Lamb's -- Doron and Jeremy, two of the top wings in the country. Alex Oriakhi, the best player on the floor in last year's national title game, against Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Shabazz Napier vs. Marquis Teague at point guard.
Then toss in the animosity between Calhoun and Calipari -- who have disliked one another since the days when Cal was at UMass.
It's a heavyweight bout stuck on the undercard.
I want this one. Badly.
"Everyone wants it," Napier said.
"It's so obvious that everyone wants to see that one," Allen added.
Hoiberg and his players aren't hiding the fact -- within their locker room -- that it's added incentive everyone just assumes the Huskies will advance. They've talked plenty about it since the matchups came out a few days ago. While it's not necessarily a sign of disrespect, that's the way that many of the Cyclones players are taking it.
"Sure, we talk about it," Hoiberg said. "But our guys have been in that role all season. We were an underdog as the number three seed last week."
"However you take it, they don't think we're making it out of this round," Melvin Ejim said. "No one has any faith in us, but it's been that way all year."
Iowa State can win this game. This is a UConn team that's lost 10 times this year -- including losses to Central Florida, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Tennessee and Providence. That's five teams that weren't even worthy of an NCAA bid.
But no one -- except those from Ames, Iowa, or the Cyclones' family member -- want to see these guys play Kentucky.
It has nothing to do with the fact that this Hoiberg-assembled group is a bunch of rag-tag guys that couldn't make it elsewhere. "Transfer U." is what Iowa State has been called since The Mayor started stockpiling guys that didn't make it on their first stop. White flamed out at Minnesota, Allen was booted from Michigan State, Chris Babb came from Penn State and Anthony Booker was disappointing at Southern Illinois. Hoiberg has two more sitting out right now -- another ex-Michigan State guard, Korie Lucious and Utah transfer Will Clyburn.
"I think people have this perception of us, and I'm the one to blame for it," said White, who got into trouble while he was at Minnesota. "My thing was public and I think it's hurt the other guys."
But no one cares about White's background, the disorderly conduct charge stemming from a shoplifting incident back in 2009, the misdemeanor trespassing in connection with the theft of a laptop, the suspension by Tubby Smith.
Not now. In fact, no one cares about Iowa State. At all.
They want UConn. And Kentucky.
"We know that," White said. "But we're going to do our best to make sure it doesn't happen."