The Redshirt Senior: Where in the World is Evansville?
There’s been a little more than one week of action in the college basketball world, but that one week has been enough to completely divert my attention away from the college football season. The University of Georgia is somehow ranked in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings? Eh. Chase Young’s suspension has been reduced to only two games? Not that much of a big deal. There’s been enough time to evaluate many of these teams, but before I start my rambling…
Kentucky just lost to the University of Evansville.
Favored by 25 points.
If anyone doesn’t know where Evansville is, the school is in Evansville, IN, a city on the southeasternmost tip of Indiana near the border with Kentucky. The Evansville Purple Aces play in the Missouri Valley conference, the conference which features NCAA postseason regulars University of Northern Iowa and formerly Wichita State University.
For context, last season, Evansville finished with a 11-21 record, last in the Missouri Valley, and Evansville has not made the NCAA tournament since 1999. Not only that, but Kentucky had won 52 consecutive games against unranked opponents in Lexington. This game was the third-largest upset in terms of point spread in the last 15 years, the highest being, interestingly, Kentucky losing to Gardner-Webb University in 2007, blowing a 26.5 point spread.
This was a big blow for Kentucky, which became the first team to lose to an unranked opponent at home while being ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll. However, here’s my bold prediction for the rest of the season:
Kentucky will win the NCAA Tournament this season.
It’s early, but this situation is similar to what happened to Ohio State University’s football team in 2014, the first season of the College Football Playoff. In 2014, Ohio State was ranked highly to start the season, but suffered its first loss at home to an unranked Virginia Tech team in the second week of the season (That Virginia Tech team would go on to finish with a 7-6 record). Ohio State would go on to win the rest of its games in that season to enter the College Football Playoff as the fourth seed. The Buckeyes would then go on to upset top-ranked Alabama University in the Sugar Bowl and then upset the No. 2 University of Oregon in the championship game.
The similarities are there: A top-ranked team losing at home early to a team it had no business losing to. Ohio State also had to deal with a slew of injuries that season. Starting quarterback Braxton Miller would go down early in the season with an injury, paving the way for backup quarterback J.T. Barrett to finish most of the regular season. Barrett would then be sidelined with an injury which caused third-string quarterback Cardale Jones to start for the College Football Playoff. Kentucky has not had injury trouble, but freshman Tyrese Maxey is playing well for coming off of the bench, so that similarity is there as well.
Kentucky will most likely win the SEC, as the only real challenger to the Wildcats right now is Florida which, although I thought the Gators would be a Final Four contender, has started off slow and even lost to in-state rival Florida State. Although Kentucky is the clear favorite to win the SEC, the Evansville loss will probably stick in the minds of the committee, meaning Kentucky will potentially be ranked lower than the team should be. By that point, it will all come together.
Let me take my tinfoil hat off so I can explain what’s going on. Well, during the Backyard Brawl between the University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia University, a game which West Virginia won 68-53, the announcers inadvertently dug up a tidbit about Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K apparently met with one of West Virginia’s players, freshman Oscar Tshiebwe after an AAU game in Las Vegas when Tshiebwe was still in high school. That, according to NCAA rules is a violation. We’ll see if anything comes out of this.
In Ivy League news, Dartmouth won its first game of the University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawk Invitational this weekend against Merrimack College 55-46, but dropped its second game against Jacksonville 57-37. Only scoring 37 points in a game is never a good strategy, so we’ll have to see how the team responds. In more news of my predictions being wrong, Harvard University dropped another game to Buffalo University 88-76 this past weekend, a team that Dartmouth upset in its season opener. Harvard now sits at 3-2, and it’s looking like the path to the NCAA tournament won’t be as easy as the media thought at the beginning of the season for the Crimson. Meanwhile, the University of Pennsylvania has emerged as a challenger for the top team in the Ivy League with its season opening win against Alabama. With opportunities for signature wins against Villanova University and Providence College, the Quakers could make a run.