The talking heads at ESPN aren’t very high on the Kentucky Wildcats entering the NCAA Tournament.
Almost every analyst who’s made a Final Four prediction hasn’t even had Kentucky making it that far, and Jay Bilas is the latest to have the Cats going down before making it to Phoenix.
Bilas has released his entire bracket analysis, breaking down every single game from the round of 64 to the National Championship.
Bilas (of course) picks Kentucky over NKU. Here’s his breakdown.
Kentucky has the fastest, most athletic guards in the country -- and they are starting to really play. No way does Kentucky lose to Northern Kentucky. The Wildcats may not win the national championship, but there is no way this team bows out in the first round.
After getting past NKU, Bilas has Kentucky taking on the Wichita State Shockers.
Kentucky is playing a No. 5 seed in Wichita State in the second round -- and that is on the Committee. This is a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight game in the second round, and that is not fair treatment for a No. 2 seed. But nobody will feel sorry for Kentucky. The Wildcats will get by the Shockers, but it will be a tough game. Kentucky will move forward to the Sweet 16.
After beating Wichita State, Bilas has UK taking on the No. 3 seed in their region, the UCLA Bruins. This is one of multiple potential rematches that Kentucky faces in their championship quest.
UCLA beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena and beat Arizona at the McKale Center, two of the toughest places to play in basketball -- something the selection committee seems to have ignored. Both of these teams are excellent on the offensive end and improved on the defensive end. But UCLA is not subject to lulls in scoring. Kentucky can be. I give the edge to Kentucky because the Wildcats are the better defensive team. Kentucky gets past UCLA in a great matchup and moves to the Elite Eight.
After the Sweet 16 win, Bilas has the Cats taking on the North Carolina Tar Heels. If you read the headline, you know how this goes.
De'Aaron Fox is shooting the ball better, and Malik Monk is back to attacking. Plus, Kentucky is starting to work the ball through Bam Adebayo and get post touches. North Carolina has more big bodies and is the better shooting team. Carolina is the best team when it plays its best. North Carolina wins and moves on to the Final Four.
After that, Bilas has North Carolina going all the way to a National Title.
For Duke, it is about the lines: the 3-point line and the free throw line. If Duke dominates the lines by hitting 3s and stretching the North Carolina defense and attacking whatever big man is guarding or switched onto Jayson Tatum, Duke will have the opportunity to get fouled and get to the free throw line. Carolina will run, get into its secondary break, pound the ball inside and control the glass. Joel Berry II has to stay out of foul trouble and stay on the floor. If he does, North Carolina will win the game. When North Carolina plays its best, the Heels are the best team. Carolina has been there before, namely a season ago against Villanova -- and just fell short. Carolina will not fall short this time. This year, North Carolina will win the national championship.
Elite Eight isn’t bad, but the Cats will want more. Maybe Bilas will be wrong?
Here’s how Bilas' bracket shapes out beginning with the Sweet 16:
Gonzaga vs. Notre Dame
Arizona vs. Xavier
North Carolina vs. Butler
Kentucky vs. UCLA
Kansas vs. Purdue
Louisville vs. Oregon
Villanova vs. Virginia
Duke vs. SMU
Arizona vs. Notre Dame
North Carolina vs. Kentucky
Kansas vs. Louisville
Villanova vs. Duke
Duke vs. Arizona
North Carolina vs. Louisville
North Carolina vs. Duke
Winner: North Carolina