With the NCAA Tournament now here, we gathered our staff for their thoughts on the Cats’ opener vs Northern Kentucky, as well as what could be awaiting Kentucky on Sunday if they prevail.
We should never walk into any NCAA Tournament game with absolute confidence that your team will win that game. This is March Madness, and no one is safe. Even as a two seed, you're at risk to lose that infamous first game. We saw it happen to Michigan State last year who lost to 15th seeded Middle Tennessee State.
Kentucky is a good, no, a great team. If all goes as it should then the Wildcats should be headed on to the Round of 32 once again. Northern Kentucky doesn't match up even close to Kentucky at all, but we all know in March none of that comes close to mattering.
If Kentucky does defeat Northern Kentucky as they should, they will head on to the Round of 32 to face one of two teams. Either the always buggy 7th seed Dayton Flyers who would obviously be a challenge, or the Wichita State Shockers whom would bring the better story.
We all know the potential behind another Kentucky-Wichita State matchup. A rematch of the two's instant classic in 2014 when Kentucky took down the 35-0 Shockers in the Round of 32. While all the main contributors from both teams are long gone, it would still be a rematch worth talking about.
The Northern Kentucky Norse have the honor of playing the top two seed and one of the nation's hottest team in their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. While the Norse won the Horizon League Tournament, they finished fourth in their conference to end the regular season. They do have a former Kentucky Mr. Basketball on the team, but he's not the caliber of a Dominique Hawkins, Darius Miller, or a Chris Lofton.
NKU is going to be outmanned, outsized, and outplayed. I think the Kentucky Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season and John Calipari's rallying cry has been "Effort and Lockdown Defense." We saw both of those things in the SEC Tournament. Currently, the spread is around 20 points in favor of UK, and I think they cover.
The 7/10 game between the Dayton Flyers and the Wichita State Shockers is intriguing. Both teams have great coaches and have been upset darlings in tournaments of yore. But this is 2017. Go and look at the schedules for both Dayton and WSU and then tell me how impressed you are with either team. The Flyers have the more impressive record as they defeated four tournament teams (Vandy, Rhode Island, VCU, and East Tennessee State.
They also have losses against tournament-bound Northwestern, VCU, and St. Mary's but lost to duds like Nebraska, UMASS, George Washington, and Davidson. Wichita State's resume is even less impressive with zero wins against tournament teams, going 0-3 against the only good teams they played (Louisville, Michigan State, and Oklahoma State). The Missouri Valley Conference was a disaster this season, so don't be too blinded by their 30-4 record.
UK should be double-digit favorites over either Dayton or WSU, and I think they will cover that spread as well. Go ahead and pencil the 'Cats in for a Sweet 16 berth. In the end, quality and quantity of talent matters.
As someone that lives in Northern Kentucky and is about 20 minutes away from NKU's campus, I know how excited people of NKU are. Also, I know that the vast majority of NKU students are Kentucky fans and when I went to NKU for a couple of years you would see countless UK shirts on campus.
That brings me to this point... it SUCKS! It sucks that NKU has to play Kentucky in the first game. It was kind of crappy of the selection committee to do that to NKU. So, instead of having a whole state behind NKU playing another school, it has split the state and some of Northern Kentucky on who to root for.
As far as the prediction of the game, I see it being an extremely high energy beginning from both teams and then will settle down and become a slow game. NKU is undersized down low but they make up for it in talent with sophomore Drew McDonald and Mr. Basketball for Kentucky out of Owenton Carson Williams. They both are sneaky and have really good basketball IQ, and both can shoot from the outside.
In terms of NKU's guards, they aren't really undersized there, and they are pretty athletic and can drive to the rim with contact. However, Kentucky should dominate this game, and it will have to be from 3 people; Bam, Monk and Fox. I see Kentucky winning 84-61. If NKU can pull the upset? Oh my, watch out, Northern Kentucky would be lit
I HATE that the tournament committee does this. Everyone in Kentucky would love to celebrate and cheer on both the Wildcats and the Norse, but alas we all have to choose. I am thrilled for NKU that they made the dance, but I see this one getting ugly early. Nobody for NKU can match up with anybody from Kentucky. We may even see Sacha Killeya-Jones in this one.
I could honestly see Dayton pulling this win off. I know they are the higher seed, but that would be an upset. Either way, I see this round of 32 match-up being close at the half with Kentucky pulling away late. I think this is when we will see Coach Cal playing Isaac Humphries and Bam Adebayo together in preparation for a potential UCLA rematch.
So with the Cats tinkering with some things, I think Wichita State or Dayton could hang around for a little while. One thing I should think everyone should know is that this is not the Shockers team from 2014. That team had 3 NBA guys on it. Kentucky wins either of these match-ups by 15+
As I wrote earlier this week, this Kentucky team will go as far as De'Aaron Fox will take them. I know Monk has been the story most of the season, but Fox has shown as of late that he is absolutely unstoppable when he wants to be. I think of Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier and the way they carried their teams, and I believe Fox could do the same thing if necessary.
My gut says the Cats make it to the Elite-8 and possibly the Final Four. Kentucky could very well win the national title, but they could also bow out in the second weekend. I do not, however, see this team losing to UCLA again (assuming UCLA gets past Cincinnati).