The Kentucky Wildcats head into the NCAA Tournament as the heavy favorites to win it all. The Wildcats dominated and outclassed the rest of college basketball during their perfect 34-0 regular season record. Coach John Calipari has built a team with an impenetrable defense and a dominant inside out offense. According to ESPN, Kentucky is 3rd in the country in points allowed and second in blocked shots. Can Kentucky be beat? In a scouting report by CBS Sports, coaches who have faced Kentucky this season weighed in on how to beat Kentucky. While there were many agreements, there were also many disagreements. While one coached argued that teams facing Kentucky should look for transition opportunities, another said that they shouldn’t play a fast, transition game. Whether a team will beat Kentucky in the Big Dance is still yet to be seen, there are only a few who legitimately beat the Wildcats in one game.
While Gonzaga is technically a mid-major, they are not sneaking up on anyone this year. The Bulldogs earned a 2-seed in this year’s tournament. The Frontcourt is clearly Kentucky’s strength, with 5 players measuring over 6’9″. Gonzaga is one of the few teams that can compete inside. The frontcourt of Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski, and Domantas Sabonis is one of the best frontcourts in the country, perhaps only behind Kentucky’s. Gonzaga’s physicality would have to be high in order to be come out with a win. The guard duo of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. is also dynamic. Gonzaga has both the inside presence and the outside shooting to threaten the Wildcats. The team that beats Kentucky must be able to make shots. Gonzaga is 1st in the country in field goal percentage, according to ESPN.
Wisconsin has had a tremendous regular season, culminating with the Big Ten title. Center Frank Kaminsky is one of the top players in the country this season, powering the Badgers offensively. Wisconsin would clearly struggle against Kentucky’s athleticism. The Badgers also don’t have the type of team to get many easy buckets off transition. What they do have is shooting. The Badgers have solid outside shooters who can stretch Kentucky’s defense. They have a veteran group who are tough at both ends of the court and play smart team ball. Their discipline on defense could make Kentucky struggle to score in the half court. Wisconsin would have to shoot very well and make sure to allow few transition baskets and second-chance points. Wisconsin would need a great shooting night, and a very physical game to even have a chance to win. Point guard Traevon Jackson would have to be at full strength in order to compete with the 10-man rotation Kentucky uses.
West Virginia has made their return to Big Dance coming off a season where they surpassed expectations. Unlike previous teams coached by Bob Huggins, West Virginia employed full court pressure throughout their season, and were very good at controlling the tempo. Their relentless attitude and good offensive rebounding will give many teams trouble. West Virginia would have to be better than usual on offense, especially from beyond the arc. Star guard Juwan Staten must play at a high level after injury in order for the Kentucky matchup to come to fruition. The length and size of Kentucky will undoubtedly make it tough on the Mountaineers if they do play. If the Mountaineers can make it a fast paced game, make shots, and cut down on the turnovers, they will have a shot.
Another team in Kentucky’s region, the Fighting Irish are a threat because of their firepower. The Irish are on the roll, winning the ACC tournament by stunning the Duke Blue Devils in the semifinals. Notre Dame has an explosive offense spearheaded by guard Jerian Grant. The Fighting Irish have several players who are threats from three-point range. The Irish could potentially push the tempo and find easy buckets from three. They could also stretch the floor and test the vaunted Kentucky defense. What may stop Notre Dame potentially beating Kentucky would be their defense. The Irish are 147th in points allowed during the season, according to ESPN. The size of Kentucky would be difficult for the Irish to handle. FI the Irish can make it far in the tournament, and beat Kentucky, it will be because of their offense.
The Pac-12 champions have a very talented roster. Arizona may not have the depth, but they have enough size and physicality to match. Arizona is experienced and have a disciplined defense. They have the athletes to match Kentucky in Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. They are not a great shooting team which could hurt them, but if Arizona can get to the paint and find open shots at the perimeter, maybe they will go in more than usual. The have started to play better and better in the latter part of the season. The only way we will see the Kentucky-Arizona game would be in the national semifinal. If both teams go that far, it will no doubt be a great game.
These five teams will give Kentucky a challenge in different ways if they get to meet in the tournament but the reality is that Kentucky would still be heavy favorites. The team to beat Kentucky would either have to match them with toughness and be able to make key shots, or push the pace and find a way to solve the puzzle that is the Wildcat defense. The great thing about the tournament is that it is win or go home. Any team can lose in any given day. The surprises of the tournament was previously reported on by The Inquisitr. Kentucky may be the favorites, but perhaps in one day, they can be toppled.
[Feature Image Credit to Andy Lyons via Getty Images]