CLEVELAND - One year later, Kentucky and Wichita State have arrived at the same NCAA destination seemingly on a collision course, but this time, it's the Wildcats who are undefeated and ranked No. 1 and the Shockers who are back in the underdog role.
Of course, both have pressing business to complete before there can be a rematch of last season's two-point Kentucky victory in the round of 32 that ended the Shockers' 35-game streak. The Wildcats (36-0) must get past West Virginia (25-9) Thursday night, while Wichita State (30-4) faces a tough Sweet 16 matchup with ACC Tournament champion Notre Dame (31-5) in the Midwest Regional.
But the role-reversal scenario is at the forefront of the Shockers' minds. "Yes, it's kind of an ironic type of deal,'' guard Ron Baker said Wednesday. "Getting put in Kentucky's bracket is probably not the biggest OK in my agenda, but it's reality and we'll deal with them if the game presents itself.''
Asked if he believes the selection committee set up the brackets with story lines in mind, Baker had a trace of sarcasm when he replied, "No comment on that.''
The Shockers defeated Indiana to earn a shot at second-seeded Kansas, which has refused to schedule the mid-major power. It was just as Jayhawks coach Bill Self feared, a 78-65 "upset'' by the Shockers.
"Who would have thought the committee would put two Kansas schools in the same side of a bracket, let alone the same potential third-round game?'' Baker asked with a smile.
"For me, it was obviously a big win. I'm from Kansas. Emotions were definitely rolling after the game, looking up in the crowd, staring at the fans and your family. You can't replace those memories with anything.''
How do the Shockers come down from cloud nine to focus on the task at hand against Notre Dame? "You realize cloud nine can be replaced by cloud 10 if you win these two games this week,'' Baker said.
Don't think the Irish aren't aware of the story lines and public sentiment about a chance for Wichita State to have a chance for payback against Kentucky.
"I talked to our team, and I said I think there's so much out there about the Kentucky-Wichita State rematch,'' Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "Our guys have seen that, and we've not had NCAA success with this nucleus.
"But we did win an ACC Tournament going through North Carolina and Duke on Tobacco Road. I think that gives us confidence to play against them . . . but we do feel a little bit like the odd man out because [people] keep saying they'll get a shot at Kentucky and maybe end their undefeated season.''
Baker, point guard Fred Van Vleet and guard Tekele Cotton were on the Wichita State team that made it to the Final Four in 2013, so they form an experienced core. They lost top scorer Cleanthony Early, who is on the Knicks but remains in close touch with his former teammates. As Baker said, they've done a good job as a group of picking up the scoring slack. Each starter was in double figures against Kansas.
The Irish, who are great three-point shooters, are a tough matchup for the Shockers with a backcourt of Jerian Grant, Demetrius Jackson and swing man Pat Connaughton. But the Shockers are committed to following the story line leading back to Kentucky.
Asked if he's ever been on cloud 10, Baker said, "Nah, I haven't. Cloud 10 is a possibility, though. We'll talk about that Saturday if it happens.''