Kentucky Wildcats as the Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics had no intention of reaching the playoffs at the start of the season. They've spent the better part of the past two years tearing down the franchise from the inside out, stocking up on draft picks, cheap contracts, and low-risk, high-reward prospects. Putting it all together is head coach Brad Stevens, the 38-year-old former coach of the Butler Bulldogs, the one-time Cinderella of the NCAA tournament. Stevens led Bulldogs squads seeded fifth and eighth to the National Championship game in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Now, despite the intention of team ownership to tank for a greater chance at a high draft pick, he's taken a no-name Celtics squad to the playoffs, led by Isaiah Thomas (no, not Isiah Thomas), draft bust Evan Turner, and because it's Boston, some white guy named Kelly. Seriously.
As for Kentucky's football team, they too have been trying to rebuild. After the disastrous run of Joker Phillips left the mediocre program in worse shape than ever, Mark Stoops got the team within smelling distance of respectability, and a triple OT loss to Florida from a .500 record. The Celtics are also below .500, but as we all know, it's more than wins and losses when you're trying to rebuild. Symbolism and belief can go a long way, especially in the superstitious and miracle-laden world of sports. Neither one of these teams is quite "there" yet, but the horizon is in sight, and the sun is about to rise over it.
Tennessee Volunteers as the Milwaukee Bucks
Tennessee and Milwaukee are basically the cooler and more-feared versions of Kentucky and Boston, respectively. Both teams are on the upswing and rebuilding, and having more success than perhaps either expected. Butch Jones is the driving personality for Tennessee, and has been integral in creating the culture that has allowed Tennessee to finish above .500 for the first time since 2009. There's no questioning Jones' passion for the game and for Tennessee. I mean, when he gets mad, his face skips red and goes right to purple.
The Bucks' success has been more based in style than in culture. Nearly the entire team is comprised of young, skinny freak athletes who play incredibly hard, especially on defense. Their offense is effectively broken, but they play with such confidence and hustle that they make it happen, one way or the other. This is a team comprised of literal spider-men; they look like what you'd get if a crate of radioactive spiders was unleashed upon the team's bus. Only two players are shorter than 6'5", and almost all of them have wingspans over seven feet. Giannis Antetokounmpo, better known as the "Greek Freak", is a 6'11" shooting guard with a 7'4" wingspan, and is only 20 years old. If these kids ever find out just how strong they could be, and if they ever learn how to make a jump shot, Milwaukee could be on the verge of having a franchise that experiences long-term success for the first time in their history.
Alabama Crimson Tide as the Cleveland Cavaliers (or any LeBron James team)
There was a point this season where the Cavaliers were 19-20, an unheard of level of failure for any LeBron James teams since his first days in Cleveland, back during his rookie year. Now, they're running on all cylinders, a fast-paced flying death machine, equipped with aggressive ball-handlers like LeBron and Kyrie Irving, complemented by a bevy of long-range shooters... much like the championship teams LeBron put together in Miami. It's a winning formula, there's no doubt, though it doesn't hurt to have one of the greatest players in basketball history in uniform either.
Alabama can brag about many of the same things at this point: the winning formula, the stud players, and the ability to bounce back from any level of failure (though I can't remember the last time Alabama had a losing record at any point during any season). Of course, there's the possibility that it might be more related to Nick Saban than anybody else, which is of course the case with LeBron in Cleveland. It doesn’t matter what their record is, or who’s on the team. When these men get involved, they win.
LSU Tigers as the San Antonio Spurs
Both these teams sneak up on their opponents, though there’s no reason why anybody shouldn’t see them coming. They’ve won titles before, their coaches are both genius, and they do this EVERY YEAR! They’re like Predator species: their entire culture is based on hiding, hunting, and killing, so nobody should be surprised when they’re mediocre in some games during the early part of the season, then turn on the jets when it counts the most and get it done.
Not to mention that both Gregg Popovich and Les Miles are extremely intelligent and also maybe insane. Let’s take a look at the footage. Here’s Les:
And here’s Gregg:
See? Two different kinds of crazy, but definitely crazy.
Mississippi State Bulldogs as the Atlanta Hawks
Both teams have hung around as mediocre-to-good SEC teams with relatively passionate fanbases in recent history, but this past year, both teams took it to the next level. Atlanta is a shocker as a one-seed, having grouped together a band of anonymous ballers around one of Gregg Popovich’s coaching disciples, Mike Budenholzer. Mississippi State’s defense led the attack on teams, wearing opponents down while Dak Prescott worked his magic. Nobody ever saw either of these teams in position as number one, but it happened.
Unfortunately, what happened to Mississippi State is slowly happening to Atlanta. Injuries, mistakes, and an unfamiliarity with the spotlight hurt both of these teams. Team chemistry and a solid gameplan can only take you so far. The Hawks will ride through the first round, but the championship is still 14 wins away.
Ole Miss Rebels as the Brooklyn Nets
In 2012, the Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, got a complete makeover from then-part-owner Jay-Z, and dished out gobs of money to anybody and everybody, thanks to their billionaire Russian owner. The next year, Ole Miss had arguably the best recruiting class of the year, and have been steadily climbing the college football ranks. Now both teams are at an impasse after living through rollercoaster seasons.
The Nets have been riddled with injuries, bad contracts, ugly team chemistry, and a quiet fanbase. Ole Miss reached #3 in the nation, only to have Dr. Bo botch the operation as they sputtered to the finish line. Ole Miss has far more optimism surrounding the program than Brooklyn does, but the depressing similarities are there, especially since neither team can afford to return to their mediocre ways.