Until the Wildcats marched through the SEC Tournament like General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the sea through Georgia in 1864 during the War Between the States, the prime directive was the ninth NCAA Tournament championship. 40-0 has now shifted from a secondary directive to the prime directive for the Big Blue Nation. Reason being is that we now must have both on our bucket list. We can no longer have one without the other.
The paradigm shift has brought forth a long list in the national media with the experts (I'm using the term very lightly) banding together to get clicks on their respective websites by proclaiming that Kentucky, John Calipari and the BBN will fail. Here's the list as best as I can determine:
Doug Gottlieb, CBS Sports - picks Arizona to beat Kentucky in the finals
Pat Forde, Yahoo Sports - apparently wantS it both ways. On the Yahoo Sport panel, he picked the Cats, but picked Wisconsin on Tony Kornhieser's show on ESPN.
Jay Williams, ESPN - picks Arizona to beat Kentucky in the finals
Scott Gleason, USA Today - picks Wisconsin
Dennis Dodd, CBS Sports - picks Duke in the final game
Jeff Goodman, ESPN - picks Wisconsin in the semifinals
Dan Patrick, ESPN - picks Arizona in the semifinals
Shan Battier, ESPN - picks West Virginia to beat Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen
Willie Robertson, Duck Dynasty - picks Louisville to beat the Cats in the championship game
It is pretty clear these guys want to be proclaimed geniuses should Kentucky falter. If they're right, they will expect more hits on their social media sites. Of course, that will occur once they ballyhoo themselves. I submit that all this is wishful thinking and not based on any factual content.
Many were saying that there are five teams who could beat Kentucky. The general consensus seems to be Wisconsin (33-3), Duke (31-4), Arizona (33-3), Villanova and Virginia. Scratch Villanova and Virginia from the list. Congratulations go to NC State and Michigan State for defeating Villanova and Virginia respectively.
I tend to join the others who say Kentucky can only be beaten by Kentucky. Everyone knows what is meant by that statement. Kentucky's attitude and play will have to be very poor while the opponent plays the game of their lives. There is one very pitiful writer at USA Today who thinks Cincinnati showed the world how to beat Kentucky. She fails to recognize that Kentucky, as poorly as they played on the offensive end, led by 20 at one point during the second half. That's showing the world how to beat the Cats? It just doesn't seem to me she was able to make a point of showing that the Cats aren't invincible as Glenn points out in his evisceration of the poor woman.. The effort wasn't even good.
Here's a comparison of Kentucky versus those three remaining teams from Statsheet.com. You can click on the change stat type for each team to compare defenses against defenses or compare each team's offense against another's defense. You'll notice I've left off Louisville simply because the Louisiana Duck Dynasty family knows nothing about college basketball. Picking Louisville only verifies that. Like most LSU fans, the Robertson family are football oriented and wear purple and yellow tinted glasses. No offense intended. I do have to add, though, that KSR's Matt Jones thinks the Cards will make it to the Final Four.
Comparing the four factors for Kentucky and the hopeful four. Remember that higher is better on offense and lower is better on defense except for turnovers, which are reversed:
Here's some more comparisons, just to make things interesting:
Possessions per game/Points per Possession:
Wisconsin - 59.8/1.21
Duke - 67.8/1.2
Arizona - 66.9/1.15
Kentucky - 64.8/1.15
Duke - 52.8%/38.9%/50.7%
Arizona - 56.3%/36.3%/48.9%
Wisconsin - 50.7%/35.8%/48.0%
Kentucky - 54.9%/34.7%/46.6%
Opponents 2/3/total FG%:
Duke - 60.8%/23.7%/42.9%
Arizona - 50.7%/27.2%/39.2%
Kentucky - 54.0%/25.5%/35.5%
Wisconsin - 60.0%/26.7%/41.9%
Steals/Blocks per game:
Duke - 7.2/3.8
Arizona - 7.3/3.6
Kentucky - 6.6/6.9
Wisconsin - 4.5/3.4
Scoring Offense (NCAA Rank)
Duke - 80.7 ppg (3)
Arizona - 76.8 ppg (18)
Kentucky - 74.7 ppg (28)
Wisconsin - 72.3 ppg (55)
Scoring Defense(NCAA Rank):
Kentucky - 53.9 ppg (3)
Wisconsin - 56.6 ppg (9)
Arizona - 59.0 ppg (15)
Duke - 65.3 ppg (141)
Scoring Margin (NCAA Rank):
Kentucky - 20.8 ppg (1)
Arizona - 17.8 ppg (3)
Wisconsin - 15.7 ppg (4)
Duke - 15.6 ppg (6)
My picks for the Final Four:
Before I get accused of looking ahead (of course I am), let's take a look at our game with West Virginia. While the NCAA Tournament results are due to all the teams upping their game, Kentucky has only played to the level of competition.
Here's the proof:
Kentucky came out and looked bored from start to finish. There was no question about the outcome. The fans knew this and the team knew it as well. Hampton simply was no match. Hampton's only threat was Tennessee transfer Quinton Chievous who played 22 points over 34 minutes. Three others played over 30 minutes and failed to score double figures. Kentucky had six players who played over 20 minutes with Ulis leading the way with 28 minutes. Kentucky won three of the four factors, but had a higher rate of turnovers.
Against Cincinnati, the biggest news of the weekend was the Cats playing Super Smash Brothers (Nintendo 64) beginning on Wednesday night and playing it all weekend before and after theirs games. If anyone was worried about Cincinnati beating us, it certainly wasn't the team. You could see Cincinnati's eyes and tell they knew it was a lost cause once Willie committed murder with his monster dunk in the first half.
Willie's comment on the dunk:
"That might have been worse than Florida. I don't think they put the kid back in the game," Willie said. "I guess that's why Coach wants me to dunk everything."
Kentucky shot only 37% for the game, but held UC to 31.7%. The Bearcats won the battle of the boards by 45-38. Of the four factors, UC only won the OR%. Cincinnati had five players with over 20 minutes and one (Caupain) play 38 minutes. He was the Beacats' leading scorer with 13 points. Kentucky had seven player with over 20 minutes and Ulis lead all with 34 minutes. He tied the whole Cincinnati team with five assists, three steals and no turnovers.
On to West Virginia from Statsheet.com:
If you believe only Kentucky can beat Kentucky, do you really have any doubt about the outcome of this game? If you doubt or worry, then shame on you. West Virginia will hack ‘n' sack just like Cincinnati, but they will also try to run with Kentucky. Big Mistake. Kentucky has already shown throughout the season that physical games are not a problem and the team who try to outrun us lose by wide margins. Expect both to have effects from the 9:45pm start time. I hate CBS for doing this to any team. There simply isn't any reason or excuse for it.
Anyway, the only question is who do we play in the Elite Eight? Notre Dame or Wichita State? Or, maybe the more important questions are:
1. Will Booker get his shot back before the end of the tournament?
2. Will we have to wait until next year before Dakari plays a good game?
3. Will Alex come back for another shot at a championship?
4. Will Kentucky ever have guards as good as the Harrisons and Ulis?
5. Will Kentucky ever again have a team who plays 48 games, including playing six games against non-NBA pro teams and two exhibition game and only lose once?
6. Wouldn't it be great for Kentucky and Louisville to play for a national championship?
7. Is there any doubt in your mind who would win that game?