The Wildcats were placed as the 5-seed in the South Region, opening up in Boise with a chance to advance to the regional in Atlanta.
As expected, the Wildcats draw elicited some strong reactions from fans and understandably so. The South Region is arguably the toughest region and the top portion of the bracket is loaded with talent.
With the brackets finalized, I just had a few thoughts.
1) Davidson is no cupcake to open the tournament
It’s easy to look ahead to potential matchups with Arizona, Virginia, Cincinnati, or Tennessee, but Kentucky can’t afford to look too far past the Davidson Wildcats.
Stephen Curry’s alma mater is a well-coached squad, led by Bob McKillop, who’s been at the school for nearly three decades. They have a big-time scorer in 6’8 senior forward Peyton Aldridge, who is shooting at a 49 percent clip and nearly 40 percent from three. Aldridge had 22 points against North Carolina and 20 points against Virginia earlier this season.
They also have a solid second option in freshman guard Kellan Grady, who shoots 51 percent from the floor and averages just over 18 points per game.
Davidson comes in with significant momentum, winning 8 of their last nine games and taking home the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship. Kentucky should win, but if Davidson is hitting threes (and it’s hard to imagine they go completely cold), they can give Kentucky a run for their money.
2) The potential UK-Arizona matchup could be one of the best games of the tournament (and shouldn’t happen in the Round of 32)
That matchup has the feel of (at least) a Sweet 16 matchup but the tournament committee seems to love placing these matchups in the Round of 32 for some added intrigue. Both these teams came in with sky-high preseason projections but didn’t quite live up to them. Arizona was hampered by the FBI investigation, while Kentucky’s freshmen had a steep learning curve and injuries delayed their growth.
However, these two Wildcats squads are playing as well as any team in the country. Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton is showing why he will probably be the #1 pick in the NBA Draft. Ayton finished with 32 points and 18 rebounds in the conference championship game against USC and had 32 points and 14 rebounds the day before against UCLA.
Kentucky has had some strong defensive performances in the SEC Tournament and found a groove offensively. If Wenyen Gabriel continues to shoot lights out, he becomes a huge factor.
Just my opinion, but Arizona was underseeded. I think they probably deserved to be a 3-seed, despite the tournament committee ranking them as the lowest 4-seed. Arizona was listed as a 4 during the first preview back on February 11. After that, the Wildcats’ only loss was an overtime loss at Oregon. Obviously not a good loss, but outside of that, they took care of business against the rest of their schedule.
It’s a tragedy that this game doesn’t come later in the tournament because both of these teams are teams that could make a Final Four run, but one will be sent home during the first weekend.
However, the tournament committee gets their wish in what will be a marquee Round of 32 matchup provided that Kentucky and Arizona both take care of business against Davidson and Buffalo (who could surprise some people by giving Arizona some problems).
3. Kentucky matches up decently with Virginia in a possible Sweet 16 game
This is getting way ahead of everything, but I think Kentucky matches up decently well with the overall top seed Virginia. This isn’t the same Virginia squad under Tony Bennett that we’ve seen in the past. This group is better offensively, while still being a top-level defensive squad, but they aren’t unbeatable.
Kentucky’s length on defense could really frustrate the Cavaliers, who still aren’t considered a top-notch offense. If the Wildcats could mount any type of offense, I can see a scenario in which they could take down the Cavaliers in a low-scoring affair.
Despite strong regular seasons during the Bennett era at UVA, they have faltered in the NCAA Tournament. As I mentioned, this squad is a little different, but it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see the Cavaliers fall short of the Final Four again despite being one of the betting favorites. I think both UK or Arizona could present a lot of problems for Virginia.
One thing is guaranteed: It’s March and it’s going to be another fun NCAA Tournament. So buckle up and get ready for the ride.