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NCAA Tournament Roundtable: First week Predictions for the Kentucky Wildcats

Is this the final week of UK’s season, or will they extend it into the Sweet 16?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Boise Practice Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

With the NCAA Tournament now here, we gathered our staff for their thoughts on the Cats’ opener vs Davidson, as well as the potential Round of 32 matchup with Arizona on Saturday.

Mike Whitlow

This seeding for Kentucky is probably the most intriguing draw they’ve had since running the Wichita State-Louisville-Michigan (infinity) gauntlet a few short years ago.

On one hand, they could potentially be eliminated by college basketball’s most dominant force in Arizona center Deandre Ayton in the Round of 32.

On the other, would it really shock anyone if the ‘Cats feed off their hot late-season, SEC Tournament-title winning run with a trip to the Final Four after going through Davidson, Arizona, likely Virginia and the potential winner of a Tennessee-Cincinnati rock fight?

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is soaring up NBA draft boards by the day. Wenyen Gabriel is being reminded that Anthony Davis told him that this is his team after setting St. Louis on fire last week. Quade Green has been a solid contributor off the bench. This team really feels like things are clicking (outside of a couple things that could help) and nothing should be off the table with them.

Still, it’s been really hard for me to think they’re the ones to take down Ayton if they get the chance on Saturday in Boise. I’m probably going to be booed more than a John Calipari introduction during a road game, but I think Kentucky’s season ends on Saturday at the hands of the 2018 draft’s likely No. 1 pick.

Steve Kaufman

Some experts say Kentucky is playing among the best ball in the country. I’m not entirely convinced of that, but I’ll use that evaluation to predict they’re getting over the hump against Davidson.

But, I’m guessing Arizona overcomes Calipari and eliminates the Cats in the second round. It would be the earliest exit since 2016, against Indiana, another ridiculously unfair second-round matchup. But, as I’ve always said, to win this thing, you have to beat whoever is in front of you.

Adam Haste

Davidson seems to be the “cool” pick from a lot of analysts since the brackets were released. While Davidson is a good team capable of the upset, I don’t see it happening.

Under John Calipari, Kentucky has only lost one game to a non-Power 5 team, and that was to Robert Morris in the NIT, a year that was doomed as soon as Nerlens went down with an injury.

I believe Kentucky will beat Davidson and advance to Saturday.

Now, assuming Arizona beats Buffalo (which isn’t set in stone), Kentucky will face potential #1 draft pick DeAndre Ayton. This matchup has a lot of fans worried, but I think it’s a slight overreaction.

Yes, Arizona is playing very well, but so are we. Arizona has played one top 25 team all season in Purdue, and they were dominated 89-64.

If I have learned one thing in the Cal era, it is that Cal has made a successful game plan against teams that rely heavily on one superstar and won more times than not. That is why I believe that the Cats will win and advance to the Sweet 16.

Ian Teasley

There’s no secret that this year's tourney draw is tough. Kentucky kind of got shafted again by the committee, but that is in large part due to Kentucky struggling all season long. I fully expect Davidson to come out and play their tails off against Kentucky in their best game of their season, but I think Kentucky gets past Davidson as they pull away late.

I’m scared about the potential second-round matchup with Arizona. That team is playing as hot as anyone right now, and DeAndre Ayton looks fantastic, and it should realistically be a Sweet 16 matchup between the two. But, with that being said, I have learned to never doubt John Calipari in the month of March. Kentucky *hopefully* survives the first weekend of the tournament in two close games.

Jason Marcum

At first, it looked like this was just the latest Region of Death for Kentucky and John Calipari. But upon further examination, This isn’t as brutal of a draw as we all initially thought.

The biggest reason why is due to Virginia losing a key player in De’Andre Hunter. That’s a major loss, and it definitely makes the Cavaliers look like they’re no longer the best 1 seed.

Then there’s Arizona. Yes, DeAndre Ayton is an amazing player, and he may very well be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft. But as good as he is, his team isn’t as daunting of a bunch as they’re made out to be.

After all, Arizona’s best wins this year are narrow victories at home over Alabama and Texas A&M. They won a Pac-12 league that was easily the worst Power 5 conference this year, as it has only produced one team in the Round of 64 after UCLA and Arizona State got bounced in the play-in games.

And KenPom even projects Kentucky to be a slight favorite if the two matchup, despite Arizona being the higher seed.

Again, they’re a really good team that may very well make it to the Final Four, but hyping them up like they’re a 2 or 3-seed caliber of team is silly.

Saying all of this, Kentucky will have a tough time getting past Davidson and then likely Arizona. However, the Cats are easily playing their best ball of the season and looked like the superior team in St. Louis, so I’m picking them to advance to the Sweet 16.

James Streble

The NCAA selection committee didn’t do any favors for the Wildcats with their second-round matchup with the Arizona Wildcats. But before I get to that, I need to address the first-round match up against Davidson.

Right now, the sexy thing to do is to pick Davidson to upset UK. There is some mythical idea that Davidson is some bracket buster when in reality they’re anything but. The one time they did some damage in the NCAA Tournament was when they had Steph Curry and went to the Elite Eight.

Outside of that, Davidson has never been out of the first round of the tournament. So yeah. Kentucky should win that one.

As for Arizona, the committee decided to pit two conference tournament champs and the best four seed and five seed against each other. DeAndre Ayton is a beast and the Cats really don’t have an answer for him. They will have to guard him by committee.

The one thing Calipari is really good it is limiting his opponent’s best player. He did it to every team he faced in the SEC tournament this season. But the key is to not let the other guys beat you. Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins are both tough guards, but I think UK has the players to counter them.

It all comes down to what they can do with Ayton, and I believe Calipari will have something for the big man. Besides, does anyone trust Sean Miller to win a big game in the tournament?

Kentucky to the Sweet Sixteen.

Jeremy Chisenhall

I don’t believe that Kentucky’s draw is as tough as people make it out to be. Yes, the Davidson Wildcats are always a trendy upset pick, and DeAndre Ayton would be tough to stop in the second round. But UK has the capability to survive and beat Davidson, and then they’re on to play an Arizona program that pretty much never shows up for the NCAA tournament.

This is the same Arizona team that lost three straight games at the start of the season, including losses to NC State and SMU. They also had a few bad losses in conference play. I have my doubts about this Arizona team (that’s not to say I don’t also have doubts about this Kentucky team), and while it’ll be one of the toughest matchups John Calipari has ever seen in the first weekend, I think Kentucky will survive it.