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NBC has Cats among 6 that can win it all; Former UNC star picks UK to beat Tar Heels

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We round up what the national pundits and talking heads are saying about Kentucky in the Big Dance.

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It won't be long until the Kentucky Wildcats begin NCAA Tournament play.

While Stony Brook and possibly Indiana are far too good for any team to overlook, most expect the Cats to make it to at least the Sweet 16 and possibly even the Final Four, which would be an astounding fifth trip there in John Calipari's seven seasons in Lexington.

But while this UK team has the potential for a deep run, Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis doesn't see the Cats making it too far in the Big Dance. In his preview of UK for the NCAA Tournament, Ellis notes how the Cats' strong offense won't be enough to make up for their lackluster defense.

Kentucky is led by arguably the best backcourt in the country. Sophomore Tyler Ulis is a skilled facilitator who cut down on his turnovers this season and assisted on 40.5% of the Wildcats’ buckets during SEC play, the highest mark in the conference. Yet the first-team SI All-America may not even be as talented as Jamal Murray, a freshman guard who drained 44.4% of his threes during conference play, according to Kenpom.com.

This season the Wildcats have fallen all the way to 70th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Though they are proficient at forcing misses inside the arc and preventing opponents from shooting threes, the Wildcats don’t force a lot of turnovers, they allow opponents to grab missed shots at an alarmingly high rate and they send opponents to the free throw line too often.

Ellis goes on to predict UK makes it to the Sweet 16 and loses to top-seeded North Carolina, a fate no one will be ultimately surprised to see given how good the Heels have shown they can be.

In fact, NBC Sports' Rob Dauster has Kentucky and North Carolina among his six teams capable of winning a national title.

No. 4 (East) Kentucky: There is no better back court in college basketball than Kentucky’s. Flat out. Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis are a problem, and when those two play the way that they have over the course of the last month, Kentucky can literally beat anyone in the country. It helps, however, to have Derek Willis knocking down threes and Skal Labissiere playing the way he did in the last week of the regular season instead of the way he played in the SEC tournament. But the ceiling is there for Kentucky. John Calipari can get his second ring.

Dauster is one of the better college basketball minds, so seeing him that high on Kentucky is definitely good to see before the tournament begins.

But while Dauster is a great writer, I'd trust Brendan Haywood's analysis of UNC a little more given how he was a great college player who helped lead North Carolina to a pair of Final Fours. Despite bleeding Tar Heel blue, Haywood went with another color blue during his picks on CBS Sports.

If you're more into the betting aspect of March, it's probably not a good idea to bet against the Cats based on how much they've improved over the past month, not to mention Calipari's March success. Then again, as the Las Vegas Sun writes, Stony Brook isn't a team to overlook despite being a 13 seed.

Kentucky lays 14 points to America East champion Stony Brook, who has the nation's leader in win shares in senior forward Jameel Warney. Indiana gives 11.5 points to Southern Conference champion Tennessee-Chattanooga, which has an upperclassmen-laden roster and plays a frustratingly deliberate style.

Since taking over at Big Blue Nation, he’s 22-4 straight-up and 15-10-1 against the spread in the NCAA Tournament with four Final Fours in five tries.

It looked like this might finally be the year for the Wildcats to cool off when they went 3-3 over a three-week stretch into February, including stunning upset losses to Auburn and Tennessee. But they responded to close the year on a 10-2 straight-up, 9-3 against the spread surge with sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis making a late push into Player of the Year candidacy.

And be sure to check out SB Nation's Heroes of March series chronicling players and coaches who've helped make March the greatest month of the year.