Kentucky Basketball: 5 Predictions for Wildcats in 2014 NCAA Tournament
Before saying Kentucky will do what a previous No. 8 seed who also happened to be named the Wildcats did in 1985, there needs to be a short list of goals it needs to worry about.
Making the SEC championship game before losing in heartbreaking fashion against No. 1 Florida was a nice start. However, Kentucky still didn't get that victory to show that it can beat anyone in the nation.
The Wildcats did prove, though, that they can compete and showed an ability to score the ball better than they have all year. Whether it was a tweak in the offense or just a young roster finally clicking, Kentucky started to look like a team that can make some noise come March Madness.
The slideshow will take a look at five predictions, some bold, some conservative, for Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
The Kansas State Game Will Come Down to the Buzzer
Kentucky's opening game against Kansas State will be one to watch, unless you can't handle close games down the stretch. Neither team will be able to grab complete control of the game and you'll never see a lead stretch to double digits over the entire game.
Kansas State will use its star freshman, Marcus Foster, to help lead its scoring effort while also using its aggressiveness and defensive plan to keep the game close. However, it won't be enough, as Kentucky has the depth and talent to prevail over Kansas State.
Sure, it's easy to say the game will be close because of the seedings, with Kentucky as the No. 8 and Kansas State as the No. 9 seeds in the Midwest Region. However, it will be close because Kentucky thrives offensively compared to defensively while Kansas State is a better defensive team.
Helping secure the win for Kentucky won't be star Julius Randle; it will be Aaron Harrison. He'll take the size advantage over Will Spradling to get to the rim and keep Kentucky's lead in hand.
It Will Be Sweet to End the Streak
In the Round of 32 there will be a matchup of a team that everyone thought could go 40-0 in Kentucky and the only team in the country that can go 40-0 in Wichita State. The Shockers enter the tournament at 34-0, the only undefeated team in the country.
However, they won't be able to get to 40-0, as Kentucky will play spoiler against Wichita State in the Round of 32.
Thanks to their size, the Wildcats will pound the ball into the paint, relying heavily on Julius Randle to carry the scoring load. Randle will record a 20-point, 10-rebound game to end the Shockers' season.
The disappointing thing is that when this happens people across the nation will say Wichita State isn't deserving of a No. 1 seed and that the team was a fluke. In fact, it's the exact opposite. Wichita State has a great team. However, the NCAA tournament is based on matchups, and the Shockers match up terribly against Kentucky.
Following his trend of playing a bad game then a good game, expect Willie Cauley-Stein to be a major factor in this game, as well.
A Rivalry Renewed
For the second time in three years, the best rivalry in college basketball will square off in the NCAA tournament.
Two years ago, Kentucky defeated archrival Louisville in the Final Four en route to its eighth national championship. This season, the two schools will meet in the Sweet 16, but it will be a different outcome in 2014.
Louisville is entering the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, bulldozing its way through the American Athletic Conference tournament. Given only a No. 4 seed by the selection committee, expect Louisville head coach Rick Pitino to have his team playing with something to prove as reigning national champs.
Despite winning earlier this season at Rupp Arena while playing the majority of the second half without Julius Randle, Kentucky will run out of steam in March. Coming off two intense games before the Sweet 16, Louisville's tempo and press will be too much for Kentucky to handle, causing the Wildcats to turn the ball over and Russ Smith to fill up the score book.
The Offense Will Flow
Something looked vastly different in the SEC tournament than in the regular season. It was an offensive flow that was sustained for the majority of the game instead of the spurts Kentucky fans saw during its first 31 games.
Kentucky looked like a team that realized what its strengths were during the three days in Atlanta. Instead of standing around the wings and passing the ball back and forth, Kentucky's guards looked to attack the lane and either kick the ball out for an open shot or finish right at the rim.
Aaron Harrison started to become the shooter many fans thought he'd be heading into the season. In the win against Georgia he scored 22 points, going 7-10 from the field, including 4-7 from behind the arc. He followed that up by leading Kentucky with 16 points against Florida in the finals.
Expect the offense to look the same in the NCAA tournament, with Kentucky looking to find its mismatch and exploit it. Look for a lot of post touches for Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein before Julius Randle is able to shake loose to attack the rim in a one-on-one setting.
You'll Be Sick of Hearing About Kentucky Being Dangerous
Dangerous. It's one of those buzzwords during March Madness that can drive you crazy. You'll hear about those No. 12 seeds that are dangerous to No. 5 seeds. What about a dangerous lower-seed team to make a run to the Final Four?
Well, you'll hear analysts and media members describe Kentucky as "dangerous" so often that it will drive you to nausea. Whether it's due to Kentucky's size, depth or talented roster, many people will look at them to do what Villanova did in 1985 and make a run to win the title as a No. 8 seed.
If the Wildcats beat Wichita State, expect to hear about this comparison for a week until they play in the Sweet 16.
Either way, buckle up and enjoy the ride of March.