The Associated Press
Kentucky is yet another team to get tantalizing close to matching Indiana’s perfect season in 1976.
The top-ranked Wildcats (34-0) are the fourth team to enter the NCAA Tournament without a loss since the Hoosiers, under coach Bob Knight, ran the table.
There was Indiana State, led by future Hall of Famer Larry Bird, getting all the way to the 1979 championship game — where the Sycamores lost to Michigan State and fellow future Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. That year Rutgers was also unbeaten entering the tournament and the Scarlet Knights lost to Michigan in the Final Four.
In 1991, UNLV, trying to repeat as national champion, didn’t lose until Duke beat the Runnin’ Rebels in the national semifinals.
Last season, Wichita State had the unbeaten run to the tournament only to lose to Kentucky in the third round.
Kentucky coach John Calipari showed some empathy for the Shockers after the game, a 78-76 victory.
“I feel for their team and I feel for their coach,” Calipari said. “I’m happy we won. I’m happy for our guys. And I’m disappointed, because they had a heck of a run.”
Now, the Wildcats get the chance to chase perfection and in a real twist of fate, Wichita State is in the same regional.
There are some differences from the run Hoosiers made to the title than what faces Kentucky.
First, obviously, is that the field has increased from 32 to 68 and that means it takes six wins for a seeded team to win it all. And there were no seeds in 1976, either. That process didn’t start until the 1979 tournament.
But what has to be considered the biggest obstacle to a team getting through the NCAA Tournament is the difference in the number of at-large teams in the field.
In 1976, there were 21 automatic qualifiers and 11 at-large teams, 34 percent of the field. The at-large teams are usually the better teams from the bigger conferences who didn’t win the league tournament.
This year, there are 32 automatic qualifiers and 36 at-large teams, 53 percent of the field.
Kentucky has the prospect of facing more quality teams that Indiana did 39 years ago.
“I think I have the best team and the best players,” coach John Calipari, trying to lead the program to its ninth national title, said. “Does that mean we’ll win? No, it doesn’t.”
This year’s bracket wasn’t too kind to Kentucky either in that the Wildcats’ fellow top seeds in the Midwest Regional are Kansas, Notre Dame and Maryland. The only other regional that appears to have such a rough top four is the West which has Wisconsin on top followed by Arizona, Baylor and North Carolina.
Calipari said Kentucky isn’t the only team in the field with a 0 on the right side of its record.
“Everyone is zero-and-zero now,” Calipari said. “That’s the key to this. It’s a one-game shot. It’s not best-of-5.”
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