Kentucky vs Wichita State - Where Narratives Went To Die

As Duke, Kansas and Syracuse fell the narrative was growing. The 2012 Kentucky team led by freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the exception, not the rule. You couldn't win with one-and-done players. Even that team had a senior leader in Darius Miller. Carmelo Anthony had veterans around him in 2003 too. It just can't be done.

Down went Jabari Parker and Duke. Down went Andrew Wiggins and Kansas.

Julius Randle was next. His Kentucky squad was matched up against a veteran Wichita State team that hadn't lost since they took one too many punches from Louisville in last year's Final Four.

Wichita State pulled ahead early, executing their gameplan to perfection. I, and many others, thought they would win. Kentucky hadn't played smart basketball all year. Kentucky hadn't played together all year. They had 10 good minutes against Florida in the SEC Championship and that's it.

They picked a pretty good time to start. The Harrison twins played their best game all season. Randle was dominant in stretches. The game was played at a level rarely seen in college hoops. Pressure? Instead of folding, both teams rose. Cleanthony Early couldn't miss. The Kentucky freshmen were money from the free throw line down the stretch.

With all that said, the narrative had a chance to play out. The pressure to execute is never greater than a last second inbounds play. As Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated revealed in this brilliant piece, the play was called "Havlicek" and the number one option was a lob to Cleanthony Early.

Here is a freeze frame as the action starts. Early is the player at the most bottom of the screen.


Things that would inhibit a lob -

1) A defender at the rim
2) A defender inhibiting Early so that he wouldn't have a clear path to the rim
3) Ball pressure making a lob difficult
4) Early getting caught up in the screening action
5) Aliens from outer space

None of these things happened.

James Young (#1 in blue) was guarding Early. He was lost. Willie Caulie-Stein (#15 in blue) is one of the best rim protectors in the country. He had no idea someone was sneaking behind him and it looked like protecting the rim wasn't his assignment. He had a man he was supposed to stick with. It appeared as if no one had the specific job of protecting the rim.

As it played out, Early planted his right foot at the very moment captured above and faded to the wing, out of the play. I would love to ask him or Gregg Marshall what he was reading, because watching the video and looking at the freeze frame above, it seems like he made the wrong read. The pass didn't even have to be perfect. Any where where Early could catch it leads to a layup or dunk. Instead he bailed.

Instead Kentucky shut off the 2nd option, Ron Baker (#31 in white) curling to the corner and Wichita State was left with their 3rd option. Fred Van Vleet came to the top of the key, took one rhythm dribble to his right and launched a 25 footer that missed as time expired. Game over.

As the horn sounded, the narrative died.

Talented freshmen can beat an experienced team that plays together. The key is them actually playing together. That's why Kentucky won in 2012. It's the same reason Louisville won last year. It's the same reason any team wins any year.

There is no new narrative.

Talent will always compete. Execution will always matter. When talent executes, it will win.

Sunday we didn't see talent versus execution. We saw Wichita State's talent executing as they had all year versus Kentucky's talent executing like they hadn't all year. The clock ran out while Kentucky had two more points.

A single game cannot define a season. It can end it. Wichita State is one of the ten best teams in the country and probably the best five. Their problem on Sunday is they ran into another one who finally played like it.