For all of the storylines being shaped in the hours leading up to the most anticipated matchup of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, there's a good chance you can boil it down to this--the way Kentucky and Wichita State are defending, there is likely to be a lot of missed shots and if one team rebounds the majority of them, there's your winner.
Florida is the only team to out-rebound the Wildcats since late January and Wichita State has out-rebounded all but six of its opponents this season. But here's one interesting statistical tidbit--three of the six highest offensive rebounding totals for a Shockers' opponent have come in the last six games. The Shockers are a lot like the Gators in that the whole is greater than any individual part, they guard with a relentless intensity and they make you pay dearly for your mistakes.
The last team to get this far without losing was UNLV in 1991 and Wichita State has the same question mark that Vegas team had--have they been tested often enough to win the kind of battle this figures to be. It's been more than two months since the Shockers played in a game decided by five points or fewer and they've only had three such games this season. WSU has played five teams in this tournament but St. Louis is the only one seeded higher than 11th. Kentucky has played six games against tournament teams, all seeded sixth or higher, and the Cats have played in 10 of those "five or fewer" games. Now, Kentucky has not won many in either category but that was the case in 2011, too--until March Madness time.
By the way, the last three teams to enter the NCAA Tournament without a loss (Rutgers '76, Indiana State '79 and UNLV) were all able to reach the Final Four. The last one to come up short of that goal was the '75 Indiana team--which lost to Kentucky.
I told one of Cal's assistants that the job this staff faces each season is similar to the challenge of trainer pointing a horse to the Kentucky Derby. You only get one chance at it with each horse and you have to get the horse "right" by the first Saturday in May. Ideally, Kentucky would have not lost to Arkansas and South Carolina in late February, been a four or five-seed and then faced this kind of opponent in the round of 16. It would be nice to have had one more week for this rapidly-improving Kentucky team to grow but it's time to enter the starting gate and see if the Wildcats can out-run the Shockers to Indy.
--listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on "The Leach Report" radio network
--check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom's coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and @leachreport + via Facebook for "The Leach Report"