Rarely does the involvement of a No. 10 seed make a second-round NCAA Tournament game a must-watch matchup, but this was no ordinary Round of 32 game.
For the second time in four years, Kentucky and Wichita State met in the second round with one team seeded appropriately as a Final Four contender and the other capable of playing at a much higher level than its seed said. Last time, it was No. 8 seed Kentucky that ruined top-seeded Wichita State's perfect season in 2014. This time, Kentucky won again as a No. 2, beating a Shockers squad that was handed an unfortunate draw.
Thanks to blocks on each of Wichita State's final two possessions, Kentucky hung on for a 65-62 win on Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, advancing to the Sweet 16 after a back-and-forth, down-to-the-wire game that felt similar to the one in 2014 that launched a raw, young Wildcats team to the Final Four.
While the first half was played at a slow, low-scoring pace (26-24 Kentucky at halftime), the teams exchanged big shots late and delivered a thrilling finish that allowed the showdown to live up to all the hype. Malik Monk made a huge 3-pointer with 2:10 left to put Kentucky up by five. Zach Brown answered with a three for Wichita State on a second chance. De'Aaron Fox responded with a drive and dunk for Kentucky …
… and the Shockers countered with Landry Shamet's 3-pointer …
It made for a riveting final few minutes of action, and when Monk missed with 38 seconds left, Wichita State had a chance to play for the lead. Alas, with 12 seconds left, Markis McDuffie let go of a three that was blocked by Monk.
Monk then made a pair of free throws to put Kentucky up by three points, and Shamet's attempt at a tying three at the buzzer was blocked by Bam Adebayo.
If it wasn't enough that Kentucky might have to play UCLA and North Carolina in the South Regional next week, first it had to survive this excellent Wichita State that that had a wide gap between performance (No. 7 in the KenPom ratings) and resume (No. 38 according to the selection committee). Wichita State beat only one tournament team in the regular season -- South Dakota State -- as its most high-profile nonconference wins came against Oklahoma and LSU in down years and it lost to Louisville, Oklahoma State and Michigan State. It beat Illinois State, but the committee left the Redbirds out of the tournament and didn't show any love to the Missouri Valley.
After losing Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker from last year's team, Wichita State clearly grew over the course of this season, dominating most of the competition behind players like the freshman Shamet, the sophomore McDuffie and the junior Morris. They shot well from the outside, and they played tough defense under coach Gregg Marshall. Unfortunately, after pulling off a hard-fought win over Dayton in the first round, Wichita State -- with its 31-4 record -- was forced to face a dangerous and talented Kentucky in only the second round, and it couldn't quite get over the hump in what proved to be, essentially, an even game.
Just as everybody expected, this was no ordinary 10 seed.
Shamet scored 20 and looked like a star, but ultimately Wichita State shot only 38.7 percent from the field and couldn't get good looks against Kentucky's defense with the game on the line. None of Kentucky's three star freshmen -- Monk, Fox and Adebayo -- totally dominated the game, but Adebayo had a double-double, they all scored in double figures and they all came up with huge plays on both ends of the floor in the second half to push Kentucky over the top.
If we're lucky, Kentucky-Wichita State matchups will continue to happen in the NCAA Tournament. For the sake of both involved, however, hopefully they'll start happening later in the bracket.