Putting the rematch aspect aside, UK should focus on itself in Wichita State matchup

Freshman guard Malik Monk shoots the ball during the first round game against NKU at Baker’s Life Fieldhouse on Friday, March 17, 2017 in Indianapolis, In. Kentucky defeated NKU to advance to the second round 79-70. The Cats will play Wichita State on Sunday.

Anthony Crawford

INDIANAPOLIS — As soon as the buzzer sounded late Friday night and the matchup between Wichita State and UK was set, the theme became a rematch of the thriller from the second round game in 2014. 

Pushing that notion is the fact that the teams are different but the circumstances are the same. The sides are flipped in this new edition of the matchup, but in both cases there is still a higher seed being left out to dry by the committee in the form of having to playing an unjustly under-seeded team early.

It worked out well for the fans in the first go-around though, as the two teams battled in what became an instant-classic. UK advanced when Shockers guard Fred VanVleet missed a game-winning three at the buzzer. The ill-seeding by the committee resulted in a game that occurred a few rounds too early, but Wichita State finally received recognition it deserved despite losing.

“It was after that game when everyone says, what a classic game. That may have been one of the best games in X amount of years in the tournament or the best game this year by far in the tournament,” Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said during Saturday’s media opportunity. “…But in the end, it took a loss to validate our team, which I think is really ironic and sad. 

The irony struck again this year, and now as the underdog in the scenario, Wichita State has a chance to dish out its revenge. But what does UK get out of this second meeting?

Besides the obvious in simply advancing, UK can use the Second Round to show that playing to its opponents works both ways and that the underwhelming showing against NKU is not an accurate representation of where the team is.

“You got an unbelievable opponent who plays with heart and fight and battles, and you bring your team in, your young team, and say let’s see what we are,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “Let’s see what we are at that point.”

Wichita State is relentless in hitting the glass and being undersized isn’t going to scare them away in the matchup with UK, especially the Shockers redshirt junior Shaquille Morris, who was there for the first time these two teams played.

“Every time we step on the court, we have to be the more physical and aggressive team. That’s just part of playing angry,” Morris said. “That’s just us wanting it more than anybody else, all-out effort.”

The Shockers also have the tools to give UK’s guards some trouble, or in Malik Monk’s case, rule out a game where he gets back into his shooting groove. Wichita State has a guard with size in Landry Shamet (6’4”) and three versatile wings that can switch and guard 1-through-4 in Zach Brown (6’6”), Markis McDuffie (6’8”) and Rashard Kelley (6’7”).

So while revenge or the rematch is something that dominates the headlines and might be in the back of the minds of Wichita State players and coaches, this game should be where UK focuses itself.

The Shockers are a great test to see if Monk can get back on track, if Bam Adebayo can keep up his dominant stretch and even see if Willis’ defensive turnaround can hold up against a team as physical as Wichita State.

“Our concern is us,” UK guard Isaiah Briscoe said. “We focus on us. As long as we go out there, play with energy, play hard and play Kentucky basketball, I think we’ll have a great chance to win.”