The pick wouldn’t have been so shocking if it didn’t come from John Wall. But Wall has an easy explanation for why he chose his beloved Kentucky Wildcats to lose in the third round to the Wichita State Shockers in his 2014 NCAA tournament bracket for USA Today Sports.
“I was putting pressure on Kentucky,” said Wall, whose Wildcats enter the tournament as an eighth seed in the Midwest region. “I knew everybody was going to make a big deal about it but that’s me putting motivation on the team. I know how good those kids are. I know how talented they can be.”
Kentucky entered the season ranked No. 1 overall because of an impressive freshman class that featured six McDonald’s All-Americans, including Julius Randle and the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew. Wall was especially high on the Wildcats when the Wizards played a preseason game against fellow Kentucky alum Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
Davis – who joined Wall, Golden State’s Stephon Curry and Portland’s Damian Lillard participating in #NBABracketChallenge – picked Kentucky to win its ninth national championship this season. But Wall wanted to be clear that he is pulling for the Wildcats to do the same.
“I want them to win. I want them to make it far,” Wall said. “They’ve got the talent, it’s just about figuring it out. I think it takes time, but hopefully they figure it out at the right time. Wichita State is a good team. I feel like we got a great team that can beat them, matchup wise. I made that decision to see if they going to react to it.”
Wall picked Southeastern Conference rival Florida to win the national title season.
“I got Florida going all the way. SEC school. They are playing great right now,” said Wall. “I feel like if we get past Wichita State, we’ve got a chance to beat them again. But it all depends on how it goes.”
The Gators have defeated Kentucky three times this season, including a 61-60 victory in the SEC tournament. Wall still plans to make good on a wager with teammate Bradley Beal to wear Florida onesie footed pajamas after the teams met last month.
“Smart man,” Beal said, when told of Wall’s choice. “Kentucky fans probably won’t like it, but he was being honest.”
Wall helped the Wildcats reach the Eltie Eight in Coach John Calipari’s first season at the school before becoming the first Kentucky player to go No. 1 overall in 2010. “I just think that tournament, we didn’t make shots and still gave ourselves great chance to win that game, lost by six, because we was a great defensive team,” Wall said of his Kentucky team, which also featured fellow first-round picks DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton. “When you’re not making shots, your defense can win you games. That’s how Florida won a couple of games this season, by locking down and playing defense. when you’re an offensive team that can lock down down the stretch, you won’t win.”
Wall admitted that filling out his bracket was harder than in previous years. “The brackets are kind of weird this year,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of teams that you wouldn’t think would be a seven, eight, nine seed. And they usually be a one seed and to have an opportunity to play those one or two seeds right away. Instead of meeting them in the Sweet 16, those teams that people got going far could lose in the second round.”
After a disappointing regular season, Kentucky will open the tournament in St. Louis on Friday and Wall has confidence that the Wildcats can still accomplish something special before it’s over.
“Knowing some of those kids and playing with them this summer, I know how good and talented they are when they finally put it all together,” Wall said. “People looking at Coach Cal like he should stop getting one-and-dones. But that’s not the case, you’ve got to figure it out. Every freshman and sophomore don’t come in and do great right away. It takes time. It’s something he’s willing to accept, but he wants those guys to succeed, also.”