On one side, you’ve got a program making its record-setting 60th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky has played in more games (182), and has the second-most wins all time (129) of any school in Division I.
You can usually expect the Kentucky Wildcats to make themselves known and be a part of March Madness.
The other side? A program that has certainly had its own share of success through the years (22 NCAA appearances), although perhaps not with the frequency of Kentucky. Providence has had a long, storied tradition within Eastern basketball circles and several moments on the national stage... including two Final Four appearances and 2022’s run to the Sweet 16.
But nothing like the Blue and White of the Kentucky Wildcats. They epitomize the term “blueblood” with their rich tradition and their national competitiveness in games played and recruits won through the decades. The program is #2 all time in total wins (behind Kansas – which played and beat PC a year ago) and has won eight national championships.
For Kentucky, it’s all about winning the next one. For the Friars, it’s all about trying to win the first one.
“We play at Kentucky,” said senior forward Jacob Toppin, who began his playing career at URI in Kingston, RI before transferring. “There’s expectations that’s higher than most places, and we understand that. I feel like we’re well-prepared for the tournament because every team we played this year, it was their Super Bowl, and that’s how it always is.”
“Every job in college basketball is hard. Coaching college basketball these days is very hard,” said head coach John Calipari. “I’ve got a hard job, but I love this job. There’s a high expectation, but that’s never scared me, and it doesn’t scare me now.”
“When we saw it was Kentucky…it was excitement,” said PC’s Ed Cooley. “We haven’t had the success we wanted, but I think seeing a blueblood like that gave us a jolt, gave us some energy and gave us an opportunity to continue to build our program and play against what everybody considers the most elite college basketball program in all of college basketball history.”
Thanks to that inherent difficulty in the job – and in getting to this point of a season – it’s understandable that the players simply want to enjoy the moment as best they can. Even if expectations, from Kentucky as well as Providence, are always high.
“When you’re playing at the highest level and the highest brand, there’s a lot of good and there’s a lot of expectations that come with that,” said Kentucky forward CJ Fredrick. “That’s on us moving forward. So many great players and the tradition of this place, we’re looking to keep that going.”
“We’ve been expressing to our teammates how much of a good time this is, how fortunate we are to be at this stage of our careers right now,” Friar forward Ed Croswell said. “And then also, pay attention to what’s coming up tomorrow and be ready for our matchups, be dialed in and be ready to play.”
Kentucky has returned to the NCAA Tournament after a step back and missing out a year ago. The Friars are in the Dance for a second straight season, hoping to replicate some of the success of last season’s trips to Buffalo and Chicago.
Blueblood or not, young team or not, the expectations are the same.
Win, or go home. That’s what this tournament is known for, every year.