John Calipari has successfully navigated his platoon troops through a tricky non-conference schedule before a breezy SEC schedule that almost came unstuck in the first game against Texas A&M. They have fallen behind to some teams like they did on the road to Georgia on Tuesday night, and took the best shot of Florida, yet this team of mostly freshmen and sophomores have found abundance of character and desire to win.
Their defence is second to none, and now the offence is gaining traction and putting up numbers. The player turning heads though is Willie Cauley-Stein, a monster at both ends who has assumed the mantle of on court leader for the team. Think of Ralph Samson but taller.
Kentucky, even if they lose in the SEC tournament, will be the overall No 1 seed so who will be joining them at the top table. Remember a No1 seed has never lost an opening round game at the tournament. Chances are it will be Virginia and Duke, two ACC rivals who have played the best basketball in that division and in Jahlil Okafor, Duke have the prospective overall No1 pick in this years NBA draft. Duke have had to overcome some belief in their ability though the recent home win over North Carolina was one of fortitude and toughness embodied by Tyus Jones, a young point guard who is probably Duke's most important player.
Virginia for me are an odd group, they have kept winning despite the absence of Justin Anderson who is having an appendectomy, so credit to Tony Bennett and his system and whilst they can rival Kentucky for the nation's best defence, they do not score enough offensively. If they were to meet a high possession offence team from the Big 10/12 they will be tested there.
So who will be the fourth No1 seed and have the chance to avoid Kentucky until the Final Four, it might be Villanova who benefited from Gonzaga losing at home to BYU. They sit 4th overall and if they win the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden they will cement it, however, lose and a team like Wisconsin with Frank 'The Tank' Kaminsky, Kansas Jayahwks or Arizona might get in. For geographical purposes they may well take Arizona, but they have to win the fast improving Pac 12 to convince the committee.
Who are the dark horses?
A lot has been made of which teams offer the best threat of going deep from a No7-10 seed like the current National champions Conneticut did. Will there be a Butler or VCU this year? Probably not as no team is leaping off the page when you do the eye test.
Perhaps an Arkansas team led by Bobby Portis may well do, but you are most likely looking at a team like Iowa State or Ohio State to come to the dance, with George Niang and Dangelo Russell leading their squads respectively.
|D'Angelo Russell 19.3ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.2apg|
A lot has been made of Maryland who in their debut Big 10 season have made some noise most notably by Dez Wells who is capable of shooting 30 points any night, but can their defence be disciplined enough to tournament action where turnovers must be minimised and chances taken.
|Dez Wells 15.2ppg, 5.0rpg, 2.9apg|
For that reason do not discount Louisville, who have that stifling defence but explosive offence which won them the title two years ago. And ACC rival Notre Dame (led by Jerian Grant) after a 20-2 opening are rebuilding momentum helped by a 71-59 win on the road at those same Louisville Cardinals this week.
|Jerian Grant 16.7ppg, 2.8rpg, 6.6apg|
For all the talk about dark horses, cinderellas and bubble teams. There is only one bubble fit to burst during this tournament. If Kentucky do not win and go perfect 40-0, that will be a bigger story than the team that does cut down the nets eventually.
My final four prediction (before the actual bracket is drawn up is): Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin and Iowa State.
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