Kentucky’s perfect 34-0 run, including sweeps of season and conference tourney titles, has made it easy to permanent marker the Wildcats into the winner’s box of any NCAA Tournament bracket – it’s so simple but that’s just it, it’s too simple.
Midwest – Kentucky
The selection committee placed the Wildcats in a favourable region, which furthers the idea that a title is almost a forgone conclusion. And even when Kentucky looked like their perfect record was threatened, they were able to go to another gear to pull away late in games, one that hasn’t been matched.
John Calipari’s team won back-to-back games in overtime, one in double-overtime, to start the conference schedule and had a further scare against LSU but it has been routine otherwise.
Statistically, they won’t beat you – their 74.9 points per game ranks 29th in the country and their field-goal percentage ranks 40th – but they will overpower you with their size, talent and depth.
In the tournament they will face a tough challenge each round but should advance without problem to the Elite 8 where a probable matchup with Notre Dame (29-5) or Kansas (26-8) awaits.
Kansas was no problem for Kentucky as they beat them by 32 back on Nov. 18 and have defeated 10 tournament bound teams.
Sticking to “chalk” is a smart alley to go down but Notre Dame’s guards could provide a real threat to stop the Wildcats from becoming the first team since Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to finish the year undefeated. The Irish showed against North Carolina (24-11) that even when they trail, they don’t panic and have players – Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton – capable of knocking down a big shot.
And as seen in recent years with Shabazz Napier and Kemba Walker of UCONN, guards can carry teams all the way to the finish line.
West – Arizona (31-3)
Frank Kaminsky is such a polarising figure in college sports but Arizona is one of the most impressive defensive teams among the likes of Virginia, allowing just 58.6 points per game whilst grabbing 26.4 defensive boards per game.
Both teams, Wisconsin (31-3) and Arizona, have three players averaging double-figures in scoring per game but the Wildcats spread out their scoring after Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and get further points from deep on the bench.
If they get by far more difficult challenges in potential match ups against VCU (2011 Final Four) and Baylor these Wildcats have a strong chance at unseeing the no. 1 seed in the region to play the other Wildcats in Indianapolis.
East – Virginia (29-3)
It is an unattractive pick as so many have to defend Tony Bennett’s slow and methodical game tempo but defensively, they rank first in points allowed per game at 50.8 and have held opponents to below 50 points on fourteen occasions.
All three of the Cavaliers losses have come at the hands of tourney teams – Duke (29-4), Louisville (24-8) and North Carolina – but the true test lies in the health of Justin Anderson who returned during the ACC Tournament from an injured fractured pinky finger on his left hand.
NC State (20-13) could do Virginia a few favours by eliminating the toughest of competitions in No. 1 seed Villanova in a potential round of 32 game but it all depends on which Wolfpack team shows up for Mark Gottfried.
If Anderson has gotten himself healthy in the period since losing to Carolina in Greensboro and can handle the ball with his dominant hand, Virginia is poised for a deep run in the tournament. If he can’t, well this pick is all for not.
South – Iowa State (25-8)
Two back-to-back double-digit comebacks in the Big 12 Tournament – along with a number during the regular season – have the Cyclones on people’s radar.
Iowa State enters the NCAA Tournament having won their last five games after losing two-straight to Baylor and Kansas State and all together, five of their eight loses came against tournament bound teams.
Scoring wise, five of their players average in double-figures, including three who average under 30 minutes of play per game.
The Cyclones will have to navigate a tricky South Region with the likes of Duke, SMU (27-6) and Gonzaga (32-2) all in the way of a place in Indy.