There are 65 games remaining to be played in the NCAA tournament. Only one of those games will rank as historic.
The national championship? It will be historic for the victors, but this time next year, and all the years after that, some of the rest of us won’t remember which teams won or lost in Indianapolis.
What we’ll recall about the 2015 Final Four is that Kentucky, pursuing a 40-0 record worthy of recognition as The All-Time Greatest College Basketball Team Starting Two Players With Hyphenated Names, didn’t make it.
I’m convinced the Wildcats are vulnerable, if for no other reason than they’ve come to believe they’re invincible. That’s merely a hunch, but this is a fact: Since seeds were established in 1979, 11 teams posited at No. 1 have won a conference tournament after finishing undefeated in league play.
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None cut down the nets at the Final Four.
Kentucky will roll to the Midwest Region championship game in three easy pieces, extending its winning streak to 37, before Notre Dame douses the Wildcats’ quest for perfection with a wet blanket.
Not literally, of course. Wet blankets have nothing to do with this. The closest things to wet blankets in college basketball were the towels the late UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian used to chew on as the Runnin’ Rebels coasted into the 1991 Final Four with a 34-0 record.
Like Kentucky, UNLV in 1991 was seen as a kind of finishing school for NBA prospects: Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Elmore Spencer were first-round draft choices, and George Ackles got chosen in the second round. Like Kentucky, the Rebels’ road toward an undefeated season appeared to be paved with yellow bricks.
Oh, and speaking of bricks: Augmon shot 3-for-10 from the floor — he and his teammates went 9-for-15 from the free-throw line — and a powerhouse chasing perfection lost to Duke, 79-77, in the national semifinal.
I know, 2015 is not 1991, Kentucky is not UNLV, and college basketball is fundamentally different from those days when All-America players were identified — the term sounds more quaint than a glass milk bottle — as “seniors.”
But what hasn’t changed is the weight put on the shoulders of a team seen as too talented and too deep to lose.
What hasn’t changed, either, is the boundless comfort level of a team that’s surpassed all expectations. Notre Dame joined the ACC last year and embarrassed itself, finishing 6-12 in the league and 15-17 overall.
The collapse coincided with the midseason academic suspension of its floor leader, guard Jerian Grant. Expelled from school, Grant — the son of Harvey Grant and nephew of Horace Grant, who played a collective 28 seasons in the NBA — was eligible for the draft, and what draft-eligible player returns to college, much less the college that booted him?
Jerian Grant returned to Notre Dame, which last weekend won an ACC tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, that had set up the Fighting Irish as Tobacco Roadkill. But Notre Dame beat Duke, and it beat North Carolina. Any team capable of beating those two in Greensboro is a team capable of beating Kentucky in Cleveland.
The knock on the Irish is their defense. According the advanced-statistics methodology of Ken Pomeroy, they finished 111th in the nation, which suggests Notre Dame’s most common defensive alignment is as spectators.
But Grant and fellow guard Demetrius Jackson can drive, and they can kick it back for open 3-point shots, and they can instigate scoring flurries so fast they go by in a blur. Notre Dame trailed North Carolina, 63-54, in the ACC tournament final. Six minutes later, Notre Dame led 80-66.
“We can dream the biggest of dreams,” Irish coach Mike Brey said after the 90-82 victory. “When we get into an offensive flow, it’s beautiful to watch. I don’t think anyone can play like that in the country.”
Kentucky is ridiculously tall — its shortest starter is 6-foot-6 — so getting into an offensive flow might be easier said than done. But this notion that the Wildcats are unbeatable is nonsense.
Ole Miss, the precise definition of an NCAA tournament bubble team, took them to the limit and then some before taking a 89-86 overtime loss at Kentucky in early January. The Wildcats then went to Texas A&M, where the Aggies — eventually relegated to the NIT — lost in two overtimes.
A defensive rebound here, a converted free throw there, and Kentucky is 33-1 instead of 34-0. And if Kentucky is 33-1, its veneer of absolute, predestined superiority is erased.
Predicting the Wildcats to lose before the Final Four is akin to saying — borrowing here from the O.C. Smith hit song — that God didn’t make little green apples.
But there are words to the song that apply to a Kentucky team headed for a buzz-saw encounter against Notre Dame, a Kentucky team doomed by the pressure of great expectations.
It don’t reign in Indianapolis.