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Kentucky Basketball: Second weekend roundtable and predictions

Will this be the last dance for Kentucky, or will they breakthrough to Minneapolis?

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is now over, and it was a memorable one. There were tons of nail-biting games, including the one these Kentucky Wildcats played on Saturday against Wofford.

Kentucky looked great to start out the tournament, as they obliterated Abilene Christian in the first round by a score of 79-44. Keldon Johnson had one of his best games to date, and Reid Travis was the leader he needed to be in PJ’s absence.

As for the second round matchup with Wofford, the contest was much closer. It was a great game throughout by both teams with the main focus being on defense. The Cats held arguably the best three-point shooter in Fletcher McGee to 0/12 from beyond the arc, which propelled them to a tight victory by a score of 62-56.

Against Wofford, you could argue that Tyler Herro was the MVP. His defense on Fletcher was suffocating, and while it did affect his offensive game, Tyler still managed to hit a big three down the stretch when his team needed him.

Now, the Cats are gearing up for the Sweet 16 where they will face a gritty Houston Cougars team. The biggest question on everyone’s mind is whether or not we’ll get to see PJ suit up for either the Houston matchup, or potentially the Elite Eight.

After seeing PJ’s latest tweet of him walking without the cast, it looks as if the chances of him playing are becoming much higher, however, we won’t know anything concrete until likely Friday.

Our team here at A Sea of Blue gathered at our roundtable and gave predictions on PJ’s status for Houston, whether or not the Cats will get past Houston, and if they do how they’ll fare in an Elite Eight matchup against either the North Carolina Tar Heels or Auburn Tigers.

Tj Barnett

It was an eventful weekend to say the least. Kentucky was on the brink of elimination against a scrappy and talented Wofford team. The Cats did advance and now face a Houston team that is just as scrappy and arguably more talented.

First, the x-factor that all of Big Blue Nation is thinking about right now is whether or not PJ Washington will ever wear a Kentucky uniform again. In my opinion, he will.

Now, we still don’t know for sure as there, hasn’t been an official word outside of cryptic tweets. However, seeing his video of him walking with no cast, along with the fact that John Calipari quoted PJ’s tweet leads me to believe that his chances of playing are very high.

As for the current game on Friday against Houston, I think the Cats matchup very well, especially if PJ is in the lineup. They’re bigger than the Cougars, and Kentucky’s guards are just as quick while at the same time holding a height and weight advantage.

This one won’t be easy as Corey Davis Jr. is an electric scorer and Houston’s defense is stellar. However, I think the Cats squeeze by the Cougars and advance to the Elite Eight.

Prediction: Kentucky 67, Houston 61

I think North Carolina is the best team left in the tournament as it stands. So, I think they’ll take care of business against Auburn on their way to the Elite Eight. Before I saw that tweet, I didn’t think PJ would be in this game, and therefore, I had the Cats losing big time.

Now that I think he’ll play, I think this will be one of, if not the best game we’ll see in the entire tournament. Both teams are loaded at every position ,and North Carolina is out for revenge.

I’m going to take the Cats in a very close game.


Because Kentucky is deeper. The Cats will be able to throw multiple bodies at the Tar Heels and wear them out, similar to the first game. It will be a nail-biter, but I believe Kentucky will advance to the Final Four.

Prediction: Kentucky 83, North Carolina 80

Nick Wheatley

It looks like PJ is back, so let’s get right to it.

Houston is a tough team. Their defense is elite, but their offense is not. They will force Kentucky into a ton of bad shots because they’re quick and active. They go under ball screens, which ices the screen, and they get very good help-side rotation, as well.

Also, they will double the post with both bigs. This is why it’s so huge that PJ is back for this one. UK’s bigs will need to either make skip passes cross court to find an open perimeter player or quickly spin baseline and get a shot off before the double comes.

Lastly, if you dribble to the corner, you will get trapped. You have to capitalize in the middle of the floor.

Kentucky will need to utilize the high ball screen and make quick passes to navigate this defense, as well as let PJ go to work in the high post. They’ll also need to limit the chances of Corey Davis, Jr. and Armoni Brooks. Both guys attempt at least eight threes per game and shoot above 38%.

If you slow them down, as well as knock down some long balls yourself, this team is more than beatable because they struggle to score. It might be close because it’ll be low scoring, but the Cats will pull it out.

Prediction: Kentucky 67 Houston 59

As for Kentucky’s Sunday opponent, I’m assuming it’ll be UNC. I’m guessing Auburn’s hot streak finally comes to an end. My prediction is UNC wins 84-63. I’d much rather play the Tigers, for obvious reasons, but I just don’t see them pulling it out.

That would mean another Elite Eight rematch between the two blue bloods. This time, UK just matches up too well. UNC is one of the hottest teams in the country right now, but that’s due to Nassir Little’s emergence, Coby White, and Luke Maye. White struggles against aggressive guards like Hagans and UK can neutralize Little and Maye. With PJ back, this isn’t a good matchup for the Tar Heels.

Kentucky will continue their run for No. 9.

Prediction: Kentucky 78 UNC 70

James Streble

With the exciting news that PJ Washington is no longer in a cast, the expectations for this weekend have shifted dramatically. PJ presents a matchup problem no matter who Kentucky faces. He’s the best player for the Cats and he makes the offense and defense dramatically better whenever he is on the floor.

I thought that Kentucky would get past Houston without PJ in the line up. Now I am certain that they will do this. Houston is not a big team and they don’t have a lot of depth. With the return of Washington, Cal is going to have size and depth in spades. The Cougars like to get up and down the court which plays right into Kentucky’s hands.

They are very similar to Auburn and Calipari is 2-0 against the Tigers this season. If the Cats can defend the three-point line like they did against Wofford, then I expect a win.

Prediction: Cats 85, Cougars 73

Speaking of Auburn, Bruce Pearl may get a third crack at Cal and the Cats. The Tigers are on fire following the drubbing they laid on Kansas on Saturday. That being said, Kansas limped through the finale of the regular season without Lagerald Vick on the court.

I am very confident Kentucky would beat the Tigers a third time because, like Houston, they don’t have matchups for PJ or Reid Travis. And Kentucky is lights out defensively right now.

Prediction: Cats 82, Tigers 72

North Carolina would have been a big problem without PJ. Nobody would have been able to guard Luke Maye. Now that the Cats seem to be at full strength, I like their chances. UNC isn’t overly big, and much like Auburn and Houston, they like to get up and down the court.

The Tar Heels are arguably the best team in the country right now, but there are still some pieces that they just don’t have to contend with the Cats, especially inside. Reid Travis and PJ Washington both destroyed the interior of the Heels on both ends of the court.

I had this as a big loss before PJ. Now I think a Final Four is there for the taking.

Prediction: Cats 76, Heels 73

Sam Gillenwater

With Kentucky making the Sweet 16 in Kansas City this weekend, all eyes will be on PJ Washington and his foot to determine how far the Wildcats will be able to make it in this tournament.

For the Wildcats first game against Houston, the Cougars are a very well-rounded team that can definitely end the Wildcats season. I don’t think they will, though, as Kentucky will have a size advantage on them at every position.

With or without PJ Washington, I think the Wildcats will beat Houston because of their defense, which was on full display against Wofford, and that their offense will be better in this game, highlighted by better shooting from Tyler Herro.

Prediction: Kentucky defeats Houston 71-63

From there, the return of PJ Washington will be a make or break for Kentucky’s season. Both North Carolina and Auburn are two of the hottest teams in the nation on offense. Even though the Wildcats are 3-0 against those two teams in the regular season, they’re obviously not playing like the same teams that Kentucky beat.

Not only will the Wildcats need Washington’s scoring and offensive skill, but they will need his defensive versatility to help UK keep pace with these scoring juggernauts.

It’s simple. If PJ plays, the Wildcats have a prime opportunity to make it to the Final Four in Minneapolis. I think PJ will end up playing because we all know he’s dying to. It may be a game-time decision, but I think he will play in at least one game this weekend.

It’s been almost a week and a half since the injury and it will have been almost two weeks since the injury come game time on Friday.

If it’s not as big of a concern as John Calipari is making it out to be and it really is a sprain, I think Washington will give it a go in the biggest games of the season thus far and help lead Kentucky to their 18th Final Four.

Prediction: Kentucky defeats North Carolina 79-74

Shane Shackleford

Despite the opinions of some of the national media types, the Kentucky Wildcats sit in the Sweet 16, again. Seven times in the last 10 season as a matter of fact. Not too shabby.

On the subject of All-American forward PJ Washington’s injury status, I’ve given it a lot of thought. There is absolutely no question he is the best player the Cats have. His game makes the Wildcats better on both ends of the floor. Those two things are given. A UK team with a healthy Washington can cut the nets in Minneapolis.

But if the injury lingers, then I think Washington’s season is over. I can’t see Coach Cal and the UK medical staff running him out there unless they are sure that it’s safe for him to play.

But over the years, I learned a little something coaching basketball that I believe this Wildcat club is using to its advantage. That something is the old coaching adage that while the offense may come and go depending on a lot of things, defense and rebounding always travels with you.

Look at the Cats’ first two wins. In both victories over Abilene Christian and Wofford, the Cats held both clubs to around 35% field goal shooting and out-rebounded both teams by comfortable margins. If your team can do that every game, then you stand a good chance of winning at any level. Cal has this team defending their tails off and holding teams to one shot and out consistently.

Now, the question becomes if PJ is done for the season, how far can the Cats defense and rebounding advantage take them in the tournament?

I think if they continue to defend and rebound, then they can defeat Houston and North Carolina in close affairs. If they slip on defense, that razor-thin margin is gone.

I believe the Cats will defeat the Cougars in the round of 16 because the Cats own a size advantage on the blocks with Reid Travis, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery and skill advantage on the perimeter with Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, and Ashton Hagans.

Couple this with the inspired play of Jemarl Baker Jr. and hopefully Immanuel Quickley and the Cats have enough weapons to beat Houston.

With PJ - Cats 78, Cougars 63

Without PJ - Cats 62, Cougars 57

A win sets up a rematch with the Tar Heels, who I think will have their hands absolutely full with Auburn. It’s not a given the Heels beat the Tigers, but I’ll go Carolina in maybe the highest scoring game of the tournament by 2-3 points.

The Heels/Cats game tests the Cats defense and rebounding advantages greatly. We will find out if the Cats have enough to beat the Heels with or without Washington. I expect a dog fight to the end.

With PJ - Cats 84, Heels 77

Without PJ - Cats 76, Heels 73

Aaron Gershon

For the third straight year, the Cats are in the Sweet 16. Despite perhaps the most talented group of the last three years, this team has the biggest question mark of them all due to star PJ Washington being injured. It appears that Washington will indeed play this weekend however who knows if he will be 100%.

Washington not at full strength makes things a heck of a lot more difficult for Kentucky but with the depth on the roster many teams still dancing would kill to be in the Wildcats shoes.

Friday night should be a battle with a Houston team that isn’t all too big but plays as physical as anyone in the country. The Cougars are fearless and know how to win as their 33 wins rank as the most of any team in the nation. Houston even defeated the same LSU team Kentucky couldn’t escape at home and has a win over the Oregon Ducks who are playing in the Sweet 16 Thursday night.

This game will not be easy, but I do think with or without Washington 100% the Cats get it done. It’ll be far closer without PJ was his full self, so I’m going with narrow victory for the Cats, as I believe they have a little too much size for the Cougars.

Prediction: Kentucky 68, Houston 61

With the win, Kentucky will move onto the Elite Eight for a rematch with the Tar Heels. Though I do think Auburn has a chance to upset Roy Williams’ squad in their Sweet 16 battle, I see the Tar Heels having a little too much plus they’re who I have in my bracket, so I’ll stick to it.

This is a far improved North Carolina team than the one Kentucky saw in Chicago back in December, and with their best player not 100%, I don’t see Kentucky surviving.

Prediction: North Carolina 75, Kentucky 62

Jamie Boggs

Many believe that the rest of Kentucky’s season hinges on the health of PJ Washington’s left foot. And while I certainly believe the ceiling is higher with a healthy PJ, I must say the likely scenarios are not all that different.

Yes, with PJ, this team can win a national championship. They could also lose to Houston. Without PJ, I believe the Elite Eight is the end of the line for this team, but they may also see a Sweet 16 exit.

PJ is the motor that makes this team run, no doubt. But there are other talented guys on the roster that can pick up some class, and this team can (and will) take care of Houston Friday night to advance to the Elite Eight.

Prediction: Kentucky 69, Houston 63

Kentucky is going to have a hard time beating North Carolina, but they have owned Auburn this season. If the Tigers pull the upset, I feel great about Kentucky’s chances on getting to the Final Four. Unfortunately, I think North Carolina is rolling and can only be stopped by a team hotter than they are. That team is not Auburn, and sadly not Kentucky.

Prediction: North Carolina 81, Kentucky 76