UK wins tourney’s best game so far; Final Four might be even better

I don’t think the NCAA tournament selection committee looks for the best possible storylines when it’s constructing a bracket every March. I really don’t. I’ve sat through a mock selection process in Indianapolis, where NCAA officials put a group of media through a simulated version for two days. There are so many moving pieces to this enormous, 68-team puzzle that storylines are the last thing on the committee’s mind.

That said, if the conspiracy theorists are right and the committee does build the bracket around the storylines that sell, then I would like to tip my hat to the committee.

Because from this weekend’s Elite Eight on, I’m not sure if we could have a more perfect setup for what could be an amazing Final Four.

Kentucky vs. Wisconsin, a rematch of last season’s Final Four thriller? Yes, please.

The possibility of Kentucky facing Duke in a blueblood-vs.-blueblood national title game that will be a ratings bonanza? Oh, hell yeah. Or Kentucky vs. Louisville for the title? The Commonwealth might actually explode. Or Bo Ryan upsetting Goliath on the way to his first Division I title at age 67, or the perpetually underrated Mark Few heading to his first Final Four and winning it all, or Tom Izzo getting back to the Final Four with his least talented team in a good long while.

Well done, selection committee. We can’t have all of these storylines that you clearly dreamed up in a windowless conference room in Indianapolis in mid-March, but no matter which one we do get, college hoops fans ought to be pretty damn pleased.

To make the conspiracy come true, though, Wisconsin on Saturday had to win a rematch of the second-best game of last year’s tournament against Arizona. Both of those teams are better than a year ago, and Wisconsin had to take its game up an extra notch. It took a second half in which the Badgers shot an otherworldly 10 of 12 from 3 to dispatch Sean Miller and Arizona.

And so Frank Kaminsky, the best college basketball player in the nation, goes to his second Final Four in as many years, but he needed help from his teammate Sam Dekker, who made himself some serious NBA dough on Saturday with a career-high 27 points and a perfect second half of shooting. When Wisconsin was cutting down the nets in Los Angeles, I thought back to last month, when I spoke with Kaminsky and Dekker as teammates were boarding the bus after a game at Nebraska. I had asked them whether they agreed with me that the Badgers were the team best-equipped to end Kentucky’s undefeated season.


“Absolutely,” Kaminsky replied.

“We were one possession away,” Dekker told me, referring to Wisconsin’s 74-73 loss to Kentucky in last year’s Final Four. “To get that close to something and come up short really, really sticks with you. We use that as a stepping stone.”

“It was one of the more motivating things that’s ever happened to me in my basketball career,” Kaminsky said. “To just get so close to what we’ve always worked for and come up short in the way we did — it’s one of those things, as much as you don’t want it to, it sticks in the back of your mind.”

So not only is this the team that may be best suited to end Kentucky’s historic season, but it’s also a real, honest-to-goodness grudge match.

For Kentucky to make it that far, it had to beat a Notre Dame team that controlled Saturday’s game and frankly outplayed the Wildcats. The team of giants beat the tiny Fighting Irish on the boards by exactly one rebound. Notre Dame didn’t rain down the 3s like many expected as the recipe for an upset; the Irish only shot 4 of 14 from 3, but managed to put Kentucky on the ropes with a flurry of often uncontested layups that had UK coach John Calipari quite upset with his team. Given the historical complications of ending an undefeated season, and the fact this would have been a program that hadn’t been to an Elite Eight since the 1970s upsetting perhaps the greatest program in the history of college hoops, and the fact it would have been love-him-or-hate-him Calipari who’d suffered the loss, Notre Dame was damn close to the highest-profile upset in NCAA tournament history.

But as they’ve done in every close game during this historic season, the Wildcats found a way. They came through with choking defense that denied Notre Dame a good look in a tie game with less than a minute left, then two clutch free throws by Andrew Harrison, then superb coast-to-coast defense by Willie Cauley-Stein that forced Jerian Grant into an off-balance, corner 3 at the buzzer — a shot that was dead on line, just a foot past the rim.

Forget Georgia State’s Ron Hunter and his torn Achilles, and his son’s stunning first-round, game-winning 3 — Kentucky-Notre Dame was the best game of the tournament so far. But the way this Final Four is setting up, we might have a couple more best-games-of-the-tournament before all is said and done.

My perfect Final Four? Kentucky beats Wisconsin in another all-timer. No offense to Wisconsin; I love that program, I love that coach, I love how much fun those players are having. But I’m rooting for history. And then Duke beats Louisville in a matchup of coaching titans — assuming, of course, Coach K and Rick Pitino can get past Mark Few and Tom Izzo.

And then a Duke-Kentucky final, the team with the most future NBA players against the team with the best future NBA player.

College basketball fans will have died and gone to heaven.

Hey, selection committee: Can you pull some strings and make that one happen? Please?

Email Reid Forgrave at, or follow him on Twitter @reidforgrave.