No sooner was the headline written — Get used to Kentucky at No. 1 — than the words “kiss of death” crossed my mind.
College basketball is too unpredictable, with so many more games determined by younger and younger players, for anything to last very long. Even the vaunted and generally infallible ESPN Power Rankings are apparently a little more fallible than we thought.
Here are two quick reactions from the not-even-ready-for-the-season Bracket Bunker: One, it’s the second week of November and we never used to play games this early. So we all need to take a deep breath.
And, two, the emergence of year-round Bracketology — I know, it’s my fault! — dictates there be an immediate consequence when top-ranked Kentucky falls to an Evansville team that hasn’t had a top 50 win since the first day of 2015 against Northern Iowa. Non-conference, the Purple Aces haven’t knocked off a top 50 foe since winning at Butler in November of 2011.
As for the Wildcats, let’s remember they are already the third preseason No. 1 seed to lose in barely a week’s worth of action. Kentucky took out former No. 1 overall Michigan State in the opening night Champions Classic, and Duke did the same to fellow top-liner Kansas in the same doubleheader.
What does it all mean for the next bracket update on Nov. 15? Michigan State and Kansas, barring additional wreckage, will remain No. 1 seeds. Both lost on a neutral court to the highest possible level of competition.
Kentucky, meanwhile, will drop off the top line despite owning the aforementioned victory over the Spartans. Before Big Blue Nation arrives in protest, remember Bracketology always values “body of work” over head-to-head results. The loss to sub-150 Evansville hurts considerably more than a marquee win helps, even one over the No. 1 team. The latter is a considered a 50/50 game, while the loss is analytically inexplicable.
But the sun will come up in Lexington. The season is in no way lost. A No. 1 seed for Big Blue remains very attainable, even the No. 1 overall seed. No one in the Commonwealth should tear up their Final Four tickets.
The most similar loss in recent times came a little less than two years ago when North Carolina fell in Chapel Hill to a rising Wofford program. Those Tar Heels dropped a line or two in the short run, but managed to recover enough for a No. 2 seed on Selection Sunday. And that was a fairly pedestrian Carolina team, 26-11 overall and tied for third in the ACC.
This Kentucky team is better than that one, and the Wildcats will probably begin proving it as soon as John Calipari regains their attention. Meanwhile, we can all assume there will be many more projected top seeds to lose between now and March.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way.