[Moderated by Matt Jones]
I have never in my life heard a fan of a number 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament sound satisfied after seeing the rest of the teams in their region. I really don’t think it has ever happened. As fans, we sometimes get caught up in focusing on the worst-case scenario instead of looking at the positive possibilities (I’m guilty too). For instance, I bet most UK fans were a little upset upon finding out about the potential matchup with a very dangerous UCONN team in the round of 32. What most UK fans probably didn’t make a big deal out of was the fact that that game will be played in Louisville. If Kentucky can’t beat the Huskies in what is basically our own backyard then I don’t want to watch them play anymore this season anyway.
I’m going to break down just how hard I think UK’s road to New Orleans really is.
Round of 32
I’m just going to assume that all the 1-seeds this year are going to get past their first opponent since a 16-seed has never taken down a 1-seed in tournament history. I do think Kentucky has the most dangerous of the 8 and 9 seeds. UCONN was ranked top-5 in the preseason before getting a little bit inconsistent and dealing with some of their coach’s health problems. This Connecticut team has a great deal of potential, but I don’t think we will see them reach it this year. Jeremy Lamb is really talented, but a lot of times he seems like he just doesn’t really care about the basketball game going on around him. Davis and Jones are flat out better than Connecticut’s bigs Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi. I really can’t see UK losing this one, especially with the Yum! Center painted blue.
Looking ahead to Kentucky’s next game, they will likely face 4-seed Indiana or 5-seed Wichita State. A lot of people think Indiana is a tough draw for Kentucky just because they already beat the ‘Cats
on a garbage 3-pointer at the buzzer in December. That is true, but when you look at how much UK has improved since that game, it is hard not to give Kentucky the edge in this one as well. The chance to get revenge on one of the only two teams that has beaten them this season, and the fact that Indiana has lost senior starter Verdell Jones to an ACL injury gives Kentucky a big advantage. Wichita State is a very good team that has a great inside-outside duo of Garrett Stutz and Joe Ragland, but they have never seen defenders like MKG and Davis. They’re not in Kansas anymore.
On to the Elite Eight possibilities. I am more worried about 3-seed Baylor than 2-seed Duke. I think if both teams play their best basketball, Baylor is a better team. Baylor has just been inconsistent this year. Duke doesn’t defend as well as most Coach K teams of the past, and UK is too balanced. Duke could win, but I think it would take a sub-par effort from the ‘Cats for that to happen. Baylor, on the other hand, is one of the only teams in the nation that come close to matching the ‘Cats in length and athleticism. Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller are threats on both ends of the court. However, Baylor has had trouble beating good teams this year. They took three losses to Missouri, and Kansas beat them twice.
All in all, Kentucky’s region could definitely be easier, but I don’t think it is the hardest of the 1-seeds. North Carolina, for instance, has Kansas as their 2-seed and Georgetown as their 3-seed. And I don’t even expect Michigan State to make it to the Elite Eight this year. Bottom line is if the ‘Cats play their best ball in March, there aren’t too many teams that can beat them.
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