With the Kentucky Wildcats playing in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, fan trepidation and fear (of the unknown) are part and parcel of the Big Dance experience. And in UK's case, Cornell University provides plenty to be worried about, mostly, Big Red's well-documented, uncanny ability to make the three-pointer. But, Cornell not only has several dead-eye shooters, they also put on the playing floor one All-SEC-caliber player in 6-7 forward Ryan Wittman (17.8 points per game), and one SEC-caliber performer in 7-0 center Jeff Foote (12.4 points per game). Both seniors, they bring experience and legitimate talent to the Big Red table.
But, after reading and listening to the talking-heads furiously pontificate on Cornell's aptitude for making shots, I feel it's time to counter those observations with a few (hopefully) cogent points on why Kentucky will come out a winner in tonight's contest. So follow me after the jump to learn why the "Phat Cats" will notch victory number 35 as they travel the road to Naptown.
C ... is for Cousins and Patterson down low -- Sure, Cornell boasts 7-footer Jeff Foote, along with 6-7 Ryan Wittman, 6-7 Jon Jaques, 6-9 Mark Coury, and 6-7 Alex Tyler, but does anyone really believe any one of these players, or for that matter, any combination of these players, are capable of stopping UK's DeMarcus Cousins, and/or Patrick Patterson, and /or Daniel Orton? Simply put, the athleticism of Kentucky's big men will be too much for Big Red's bigs to handle.
Because of the obvious advantage the 'Cats hold inside, UK coach John Calipari should have a steady diet of passes into the paint awaiting Foote and friends. Simply put, Foote, along with his teammates, have yet to encounter the size, skill, and shot making ability of UK's big man brigade, and in this game, there will be no time for a learning curve. For Cornell, it's defend the paint, or lights out, and I'm betting on the hillbilly's, uh, I mean, the 'Cats' ability to take full advantage of their front court superiority.
A ... is for athleticism and length on the perimeter -- It is now widely known that Cornell is the best three-point shooting team in all of college basketball. And quite frankly, I'm sick of hearing about it, moreover, the media types who have fallen hard for Big Red seem to be discounting Kentucky's perimeter length and athleticism when evaluating tonight's Sweet Sixteen match-up.
Along with John Wall's 6-4 frame, he also brings long arms to his defensive repertoire, and although Eric Bledsoe is only 6-1, he has a six-and-a-half-foot wingspan. And with Darius Miller at 6-7, and Darnell Dodson at 6-7, Cornell has yet to face a team with UK's capacity to pressure and disrupt the long-range shot. Also, I expect UK to practice ball denial tonight, especially where Ryan Wittman is concerned (he leads Cornell with made 107 three-point shots on the year), but the 'Cats must be aware of the back-door when overplaying the pass.
But in the end, UK's vast physical superiority on the perimeter should adversely affect the ...
T ... is for the three-point shot -- We've all heard the mantra, 'live by the three, die by the three.' Well, there may not be another team in all the land that so heavily relies on the three-point shot to lead them to victory, as Cornell. This is inherently dangerous for Big Red, made even more perilous in this instance by the aforementioned advantage the 'Cats hold in the defensive athleticism department.
UK's ability to close on the shooter and challenge shots is the defensive key to Big Blue's victory, and if one studies Kentucky's last four games, one will find a team challenging every shot. As a matter of fact, the key to UK's runaway wins over the last four games has been their defensive prowess being consistently applied. And since said pressure is nothing like Big Red has encountered previously, I expect their 43.4% three-point accuracy (321-739) to take a major hit, which will leave them wanting at games end. Although Ivy Leaguers, I don't think Cornell has an answer for the pressure, and if Big Red doesn't connect on at least 10-12 treys (assuming UK makes four or five), then the ultimate Cinderella will walk home, alone, with slippers in hand.
S ... is for Sweet Sixteen -- As in, the Sweet Sixteen is where double-digit seeds come to die: Since the NCAA Tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been 37 double-digit seeds advance to the third round of the Big Dance, but only eight of those teams (21.6%) advanced on to the Elite Eight.
This ... will not be one of those times.
W ... is for Wall and the dribble-drive -- With UK's increased use of the dribble-drive motion offense over the last month or so, heightened by John Wall's ability to get to the rim, or drive and dish, or drive and pull-up for the mid-range shot, the 'Cats should put on a DDMO display in tonight's titanic match-up. Yes I know, I wrote above that Cousins and Patterson should feed like ravished bears tonight, but mixing up the offensive schemes will also be one of the keys to a UK victory. Afterall, these aren't SEC foes, these are Ivy League players, who are sure to adjust to UK's attack. Their vast intellectual acumen will surely dictate an alteration in the Big Red defensive game-plan after the rim-rocking Cousins, Patterson, and Orton have in store. And the fact that Cornell has not seen the quickness and speed of John Wall or Eric Bledsoe, supplementing UK's sizable size advantage with the dribble-drive seems like the logical course to take.
I ... is for increased intensity and focus -- Since the second game of the SEC Tournament, the 'Cats are playing like a different team. One can see it in their eyes, and more importantly, one can see it on the court. This team has their collective eyes on the prize, and taking a team lightly, or looking ahead to the next opponent, should not be an area of concern. This Kentucky team may not be full of Rhodes Scholars, but they realize one loss will send them back to the Bluegrass absent the much sought after hardware.
Couple the 'Cats new found blood-letting with the mass media's dismissal of their ability to dress themselves, and chew their food properly, and I'm betting the 'Cats' focus on the task at hand will be amped-up, resulting in an itch to make Big Red pay for the ignorance of the dense sports media types.
N ... is for natural selection -- Which is the evolutionary process by which the most adaptable species survive. And in the case of the 'Cats versus Cornell, Kentucky is the more talented of the two teams, and with their high basketball I.Q., UK's ability to successfully adapt to the Big Red attack will be the reason the "Phat 'Cats" survive and advance, to play again another day.
At some point tonight, talent will take over, and the strong will survive, while the sly sharp-shooters take a break until next year.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!