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Could Kentucky defeat an NBA team? No. But are they the best team of the past decade?

March 29, 2012 1 comment

By: Kels Dayton

The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats are clearly the best team in college basketball. It’s not even close. Kentucky has the best player (Anthony Davis), another top-five NBA draft pick (Michael Kidd-Glichrist), two other first-rounders (Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague) and a loaded bench.

Now, the question many people have been asking is, “Could Kentucky defeat a bad NBA team?”

The answer?

Could Kentucky defeat an NBA team? Ummm, no. But are the Wildcats the best team of the past decade? (AP Photo/Streeter Lecka)

Of course not. The worst team in the league in 2012 are the Washington Wizards, and they would run these Wildcats by 30 points–in D.C., in Rupp, on the moon- wherever.

Remember, UK may have four or five NBA players, but an NBA team has 13 NBA players. I know…it’s like a riddle or something. But seriously, how stupid can you be?

But are the Wildcats the best team of the past decade? We say–emphatically–no.

There are at least five other national champions that have taken the court since 2002 who would take down the Wildcats. They’re listed below. (And don’t forget 2009 Connecticut, 2008 UCLA, 2008 Memphis, 2008 North Carolina, 2006 Florida, and 2005 Illinois, all of whom would have given Big Blue a serious run).

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2009 NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (33-4,  Def. Michigan State 89-72 in Nat’l Final)

Starting Lineup:

Streeter Lecka

G Ty Lawson (16.6 ppg, 6.6 apg, 2.1 spg, Second-team All-American)- Now averages 15.6 points, 6.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds as the starting point guard for the Denver Nuggets

G Wayne Ellington (15.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .483 FG pct)- Now a key contributor for the Minnesota Timberwolves (18.5 min per game)

C Tyler Hansbrough (20.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, Nat’l Player of Year)- Now a key reserve for Indiana Pacers (9.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg)

F Danny Green (13.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.7 apg)- Now with the San Antonio Spurs (8.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg)

F Deon Thompson (10.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg)- Now plays professionally in Europe

Key Reserves:  F Ed Davis (6.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg)- was the No. 11 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, now a reserve for Toronto Raptors

TEAM OVERVIEW: The ’09 Tar Heels were the clear-cut class of college basketball in 2009, winning 33 games and  obliterating everyone in their path on their way to the national title. The Heels rolled through the NCAAs, defeating opponents by an average of 20.1 points per game and embarrassing Michigan State, 89-72, in the title game in Detroit. Point guard Ty Lawson was the fastest man in college basketball, and has turned out to be a rising star in the NBA. Big man Tyler Hansbrough is a Carolina legend, and has turned out to be a pretty good NBA player in his own right. In all, the Heels had six players who are currently on NBA rosters.

WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: This team is much more experienced, and every bit as talented. Tyler Hansbrough‘s muscle and indomitable will inside would neutralize the ever-improving Anthony Davis, who despite all his physical gifts would have a heck of a time trying to guard Hansbrough. Carolina also had tremendous length in Ed Davis and F Tyler Zeller coming off the bench, and a pair of terrific three-point shooters in Danny Green and the rattlesnake-deadly Wayne Ellington on the wing.

FINAL SCORE:  2009 North Carolina 95, 2012 Kentucky 85

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2008 KANSAS JAYHAWKS (37-3, Def. Memphis, 75-68 in Nat’l Final)


The '08 Jayhawks were devastating on defense. (KU Sports.com)

Starting Lineup:

G Mario Chalmers (12.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.1 rpg, 2.5 spg)- Big-shot Mario was a defensive dynamo. Now the starting point guard and a three-point specialist for the Miami Heat (9.9 ppg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 spg)

G Russell Robinson (7.3 ppg, 4.1 apg, 2.0 spg)- One of the great defensive guards in Kansas history. Now plays in the NBDL.

C Darnell Jackson (11.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg)- Heart and soul of this Jayhawks team. Now plays for the Sacramento Kings (currently injured).

F Brandon Rush (13.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.1 apg)- Terrific defender and scorer, and unselfish passer. Now a key player with the Golden State Warriors.

F Darrell Arthur (12.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg)-Athletic, polished big man would be a very tough matchup for Kentucky. Now a key reserve with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Key Reserves: 

G Sherron Collins (9.3 ppg, 4.1 apg)- Collins was a reserve in name only. Played in crunch time for Kansas, remains a legend with the Jayhawks for clutch steal and three-pointer in title game, 2009 first-team All-American. Signed a rookie contract with Charlotte Bobcats. Now plays in Europe.

C Sasha Kaun (7.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg)- Played big minutes for the ‘Hawks. Now plays professionally in Europe.

F Cole Aldrich (5.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg)- Had a coming-out party in ’08 Final Four. Now a reserve with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Chalmers' shot remains one of the indelible images of March. (AP Photo)

TEAM OVERVIEW: The ’08 Jayhawks had six–count ’em–six players who saw time in the NBA. Five still remain on NBA rosters. This was an incredibly balanced team, with all four of the five starters averaging in double figures. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson made up probably the best defensive backcourt in the past decade in college hoops, and Sherron Collins was a big-time scorer and distributor coming off the bench.

The Jayhawks were absolutely loaded up front, with NBA guys Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, and Cole Aldrich and key cog Sasha Kaun roaming the paint. This was probably the best defensive team of the past decade, and Kansas won the national title in a year in which Kevin Love’s UCLA team and Derrick Rose’s Memphis team each participated in the Final Four. The overall talent level in college hoops was better in ’08, as all four number one seeds reached the Final Four. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate how good this Kansas team was is to point out that it led virtually the exact same North Carolina team you just read about 40-12 at one point in the National Semifinal game.

WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: Like the ’09 Tar Heels, this team was far more experienced than this year’s Kentucky squad. 2008 Kansas was absolutely menacing in the backcourt, and overpowering up front. The Jayhawks had so much balance and power that any one of their top eight guys could go for 25 and 10, but they played with such a cohesiveness and a togetherness that that never happened. Kansas would wear down today’s Wildcats and force them to shoot deep jumpers. They’d control the pace of the game, and pull away at the end in a decisive victory.

FINAL SCORE: 2008 Kansas 82, 2012 Kentucky 69

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2007 FLORIDA GATORS (34-5, Def. Ohio State, 84-75 in Nat’l Final)

These trio of Gators have done pretty well for themselves in the NBA. (AP Photo)

Starting Lineup:

G Taurean Green (13.3 ppg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 spg)- Led the team in scoring, spent 3 seasons in NBA. Now plays in Europe.

G Lee Humphrey (10.3 ppg, .459 3-pt FG Pct)-Sharpshooting guard now plays in the NBDL.

C Joakim Noah (12.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.9 bpg)-Defensive menace, outstanding college player. Now starts for the Chicago Bulls.

F Corey Brewer (13.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg)- Solid defender, versatile scorer. Now with NBA’s Denver Nuggets.

F Al Horford (13.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg)-Best NBA player on this team. Great young forward with the Atlanta Hawks, although injured this year.

KEY RESERVES: C Chris Richard (6.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg), C Mareese Speights (4.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg)- Now with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

Getty Images

TEAM OVERVIEW: Has everyone forgotten about this Florida team, which won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007? The Gators boasted three NBA players in their starting lineup, two of whom have gone on to outstanding careers in the league. Joakim Noah and Al Horford have both carved up quite a niche in the NBA, with Noah being a starter and defensive stalwart on the best team in the league (record-wise), and Horford twice earning a spot in the All-Star game.

WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: These Gators would punch Kentucky in the mouth. 2006-07 Florida became the first team since 1991-92 Duke to repeat as national champions, and they were loaded with juniors and seniors, which is an anomaly in today’s college game. Florida had the size to overwhelm young Anthony Davis on the backboard, and sharpshooting Lee Humphrey was always there to knock down the big 3 when the Gators needed it. Although they had a habit of playing down to their competition, this Gators team showed up when it mattered most. They were just too good  for the 2012 ‘Cats.

FINAL SCORE: 2007 Florida 82, 2012 Kentucky 73
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2004 CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (27-6, Def. Georgia Tech, 82-73 in Nat’l Final)

Emeka Okafor and the Huskies dominated opponents that season. (Getty Images)

Starting Lineup:

G Taliek Brown (6.3 ppg, 7.5 apg, 3.9 rpg)- Maybe the best floor general in UConn history; uncanny defender. Now playing in Canada.

G Ben Gordon (18.5 ppg, 4.7 apg)- Gordon was the go-to scorer on this team, and the Huskies’ best offensive player. He now balls with the Detroit Pistons.

C Emeka Okafor (17.6 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 4.1 bpg, First team All-American)- Okafor was the best player in college basketball in 2004. He was taken with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, and now plays for the New Orleans Hornets.

F Rashad Anderson (11.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg)- Sharpshooting sniper for UConn in ’04, could catch fire and hit 9 threes in a row. Also a money crunch-time shooter.

F Josh Boone (5.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg)- Boone was just a freshman in ’04, but he became a big-time presence down low as the season wore on. Played four seasons with the Nets, now plays in Europe.

Key Reserves: F Charlie Villanueva (8.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), now with the Detroit Pistons, F Hilton Armstrong (2.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg), played five NBA seasons  F Denham Brown (8.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg).

TEAM OVERVIEW: Anyone who watched college basketball in 2004 remembers that the Huskies were far and away the best team in America. UConn rolled through the NCAA Tournament, winning its first four games by margins of 17, 17, 20, and 16. The Huskies also barreled No. 3 Georgia Tech in the national championship game, leading by as many as 22 points in a convincing 82-73 victory. UConn was balanced both inside and out with Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor, and became the first team since Kentucky in 1996 to go from Preseason No. 1 in September to national champion in April.

WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: Once again, UConn was much more experienced than the Wildcats are, and the Huskies may have been just as talented. Okafor was as dominant a force as there has been in the past decade in college basketball. Connecticut had six players who went on to play in the NBA, and has four who are still balling there eight years later. Point guard Taliek Brown would abuse Marquis Teague in the backcourt, and Gordon is a better player than anyone Kentucky can put on the wing. (Yes, that includes Kidd-Gilchrist). Remember, Okafor and Gordon went No. 2 and No. 3 in the NBA Draft that year, and Villanueva was a lottery pick the following season.

FINAL SCORE: 2004 UConn 79, 2012 Kentucky 77

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2003 SYRACUSE ORANGEMEN (24-5, Def. Kansas 81-78 in Nat’l Final)

This would be a scary sight for Kentucky fans if they had to face the '03 Orange. (AP Photo)

Starting Lineup: 

G Gerry McNamara (13.3 ppg, 4.4 apg)- Only a freshman in ’03, McNamara hit a record six three-pointers in the NCAA championship game.

G Kueth Duany (11.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg)-Duany was a good shooter, but had the size at 6-6 to match up with UK’s Kidd-Gilchrist or Jones on the wing.

C Craig Forth (3.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg)- His size (7-1) would provide the biggest challenge to Davis, but Forth wasn’t a great collegian.

F Carmelo Anthony (22.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg)- The only name that really matters on this team, outside of McNamara. NBA superstar with the New York Knicks.

F Hakim Warrick (14.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg)- Just a sophomore that season, but came away with the biggest play in Syracuse history with his block on Kansas’ Michael Lee with 3 seconds to play. Now plays for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

Key Reserves: G Josh Pace (4.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg), G Billy Edelin (9.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg)

TEAM OVERVIEW: This wasn’t the best team in 2003, but Syracuse came together at the perfect time behind freshmen Gerry McNamara and Carmelo Anthony, who remains the lone one-and-done college superstar to lead his team to an NCAA championship. McNamara was a clutch shooter, and would go on to become one of the greatest guards in Syracuse history. He didn’t have a great professional career, and is now a Syracuse assistant, but McNamara was just plain scary in the big spot in college. Anthony of course led the way for this Syracuse team, coming through with a historic NCAA Tournament performance, averaging 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: This is the best matchup of all of the teams we’ve listed. Much like 2012 Kentucky, ’03 Syracuse was loaded with talented freshmen and sophomores. Kentucky may have more NBA talent, but there’s little chance that any of the Wildcats will turn out to be as good as Carmelo Anthony in the pros. The ‘Cuse was just as long inside as Kentucky is, with Warrick, Anthony and Forth flanking the front line. Even Duany had size, and he was a capable defender. Throw in McNamara‘s shooting ability and propensity for making big plays, and Syracuse takes out the ‘Cats in an awesome game.

FINAL SCORE: 2003 Syracuse 85, 2012 Kentucky 84

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2012 Final Four Preview: Ten Burning Questions about the Final Four in New Orleans

March 26, 2012 6 comments

BY: Kels Dayton

You have Final Four questions. We have answers. Long-winded answers, sure, but answers nonetheless. Kels Dayton spent Monday pouring over the thousands upon thousands of mailbag questions he received, and whittled them down to ten mind-blowing questions that burn with the fire of a thousand suns. He then answered them with the knowledge and insight of  Yoda or that particularly bright homeless guy on the side of the road. Okay, so he made up the questions. And that homeless guy is definitely more knowledgeable. But still…read on. 

Q: How impressive is it that Kansas has reached the Final Four? 

Thomas Robinson and Kansas outmuscled North Carolina on their way to the Final Four. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Pretty freakin’ impressive. Kansas lost four starters from last year’s 33-win team, including lottery picks Marcus and Markieff Morris and Josh Selby.

It appeared as though it was going to be a down year in Lawrence, but coach Bill Self just doesn’t do ‘down’ years. Self coaxed yet another conference championship out of this bunch, helped turn Thomas Robinson from a role-playing reserve to a National Player of the Year candidate, and instilled his team with the confidence it needed to play as well as it has.

Tyshawn Taylor is an eye-rolling x-factor, but he has been “Good Tyshawn” a lot more than “Bad Tyshawn” in this tournament. Taylor is capable of putting the team on his back and carrying the Jayhawks during stretches, although just as capable of turning the ball over in spectacularly dumb fashion.

Elijah Johnson has emerged as a big-time shot-maker in the clutch, and Jeff Withey‘s steady improvement mirrors that of Cole Aldrich during the 2008 Final Four. All of that can be credited to Self, who has guided this young team to heights no one outside of the Jayhawks locker room believed was possible this season.

Q:What is the most impressive thing about these student-athletes?

If you’ve ever been to a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 NCAA Tournament game, you know that the atmosphere in the building is absolutely incredible.

There are upwards of 40,000 screaming fans, usually in a giant football stadium with a basketball court plopped aimlessly in the middle. Every move you make is dissected more intensely than a pig in science class. Every dribble, every shot is packed with enough pressure to make your water heater explode like a North Korean missile.

And forget about hiding. Unlike other sports, you can’t duck under a hat or helmet. You’re not lost in the middle of the offensive line, where the majority of the people in the stadium don’t notice your existence.

I wouldn’t have the nerve to dribble the ball up the court in that type of atmosphere. And yet, these kids excel in this situation. No one completely loses their mind. The confidence it takes to perform on the level in which they are demanded to in front of that many people at 18, 19, 20 years old is remarkable. It is amazing, and certainly worth mention in today’s cutthroat sports culture.

Q: Can anyone beat Kentucky?

Anthony Davis and the Wildcats are the prohibitive favorites to cut the nets down in New Orleans. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It’s going to be ridiculously tough.

The Wildcats are clearly the best team in this field, and probably the best college basketball team since 2008, when Kansas won the National Championship and Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA were stacked with future pros.

Kentucky turned a 10-5 deficit into a 21-10 lead in the blink of an eye against Baylor, and thoroughly punished the Bears in a dominant Elite Eight performance.

The Wildcats have been head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest of the field this season, and as Westwood One radio’s John Thompson said, “It’s scary when the best team is playing the best in the tournament.”

It’s going to take a monumental performance from one of the other three teams in this Final Four to knock off the ‘Cats.

Q: Which team has the best chance?

 Ohio State appears to be the biggest threat to the Wildcats because of their size and talent inside.

Forward Jared Sullinger is an absolute beast down low, and the versatile Deshaun Thomas may actually present some matchup problems for the ‘Cats, because he carries a lot of weight in the paint. (Sorry to go all Clark Kellogg on you there). 

Point guard Aaron Craft may be the best defensive guard in the nation, and if William Buford gets hot, the Buckeyes have plenty of weapons to hang with the Wildcats.

They are also one of the best half-court scoring teams in the nation, which is one weakness Kentucky has shown (kind of).

Q: Can Louisville pull a 2011 UConn and stun the country and the ‘Commonwealth’ in the National Semis?

Louisville is an incredible story, but can the Cardinals knock out Kentucky on the biggest stage in their rivalry's history? (Christopher Hainewickel/US Presswire)

It would be the greatest moment in Louisville history, and probably the best moment in the history of basketball in Kentucky.

The problem with all of the comparisons to last year’s UConn team is that Louisville doesn’t have the one ingredient that UConn had that took them from Big East also-ran to national champ–Kemba Walker.

Peyton Siva is a terrific player, and the young Cardinals have stepped up beside him; much in the way that UConn’s young guns played way over their heads in 2011. But no one would argue that Siva is the nation’s best player, just like no one after the NCAA Tournament last season would argue that Kemba wasn’t the best in America.

It would be STUNNING–all-caps–if Louisville took down Kentucky on Saturday evening. But don’t think for one second that Rick Pitino isn’t reminding his team about how big of an underdog it is heading into this game. The Cardinals will be about as motivated as you can possibly be to play in a basketball game, and Kentucky will have to match their passion.

Q: What would it take for Kansas to cut down the nets? 

Travis Releford and the Jayhawks are on an amazing ride. (Photo: Robert Cohen/St. Louis Dispatch)

Thomas Robinson would have to channel Vince Young-circa 2005 and come out absolutely determined to prove that he deserves the National Player of the Year Award. Young was upset that Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy in ’05, and vowed to show the nation why he was the best player in college football that year in the National Championship game against USC.

If Robinson comes out with a personal vendetta against rival big men Jared Sullinger and Anthony Davis, he could help write a similar script. Of course, that Texas team was a season-long juggernaut that edged USC in one of the biggest clashes of heavyweights in sports history. If Kansas defeats Kentucky on Monday night in New Orleans, it will go down as one of the bigger upsets in college basketball history.

Q: What will we remember about this tournament 20 years from now?

Jim Nantz will be waxing poetically about Norfolk State for years to come. (Photo: ESPN)

Norfolk State and Lehigh came up with two of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, and they happened within 3 hours of each other. Those games were the kind of moments that Jim Nantz will describe as “indelible” as he warm-heartedly narrates them in video pieces for years to come. This year’s tournament wasn’t as crazy as the past two year’s, and it hasn’t had that one buzzer-beating game that distinguished itself as unique.

Still, with two 15-seeds taking out No. 2’s, a dominant juggernaut in Kentucky marching towards John Calipari’s first-ever national championship (until it is vacated five years from now), and an incredible rivalry game taking place in the Final Four, this has been a memorable NCAA Tournament.

All it would take for it to become even more special is for someone to knock out the Wildcats in spectacular fashion. But even if Kentucky storms its way to the title, this has been a fun NCAA Tournament and one that will remain memorable for years to come.

Q: Is Tim Tebow the Christian Laettner of football?

Christian Laettner would be just as annoying as Tim Tebow if he played today. (Photo: ESPN)

Yes. Great college player…awful in the pros. Like Tebow, Laettner won two national championships in college, captivated the nation because of the fact that he was extraordinarily successful, white, and extremely polarizing. If Laettner had played today, there would be Laettnermania, although it may not have approached the ridiculous heights of Tebowmania.

Q: What is the main thing that could derail Kentucky in the Final Four?

Foul trouble is always a concern, and Ohio State has the bigs to put Anthony Davis on the bench for a while. Still, Kentucky is too deep, and will need to struggle from the field against a tough Buckeyes defense in order to be slipped up.

Q: Is Kentucky the best team of the past decade?

WFAN’s Mike Francesa remarked today that he thought Kentucky was the best team of the past decade, which gives life to this absurd topic. Francesa then followed that comment up by saying that he thinks that Kansas is not well coached. So yeah, he’s got zero credibility left when it comes to college basketball.

It is amazing how short people’s memories are. Kentucky has four or five pros and is clearly the best team in 2012, but they aren’t the best collection of talent the game has seen in the past decade. Give me 2009 North Carolina, 2008 Kansas, 2004 Connecticut, or even 2007 Florida, which by the way, won back-to-back national titles. Kentucky seems more dominant this year because the competition isn’t close to what it has been in the past, but they aren’t as good as those teams, particularly ’08 Kansas, which beat a team led by Derrick Rose in the national final.

The 2008 Jayhawks would handle this Wildcat team.

NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Predictions: South Region 1. Kentucky vs. 4. Indiana

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

Alright, so your bracket is busted. So is everyone else’s. Now it’s time to put away the tissues, wipe your nose on your old bracket and start over. Get back in the game with a Sweet-16 pool, because from here on out the tournament is much more predictable. You can still win something on this thing—even though it won’t feel as glorious as it would have had you picked Lehigh to knock out Duke. So, sit back, relax, and read up on the tournament from here on out. Because everybody deserves a second chance–except Duke. They’re out.

 Kentucky (34-2, SEC)

National Player of the Year candidate Anthony Davis. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Kentucky manhandled in-state rival Western Kentucky in the round of 64 and then exploded on Iowa State during a 15-2 run that sealed the game in the second half in the round of 32.

BURNING QUESTION: Can anyone beat these Wildcats? Indiana already has, but that may not be a good thing come game-time on Friday night. UK is going to be motivated to avenge their only regular-season loss, and prove that they still own the rivalry with the Hoosiers. Iowa State played well in spurts against Kentucky, but was overmatched in the end in a double-digit loss.

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: Making shots, staying out of debilitating foul trouble, and not getting tight. This is still a young team.

X-FACTOR: Sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones have taken the role of elder statesmen on the team, as both were around for Kentucky’s run to the Final Four last season. Lamb averages 13.2 points per game and shoots 46 percent from three-point range, while Jones puts up 12.5 points and pulls down 7.5 boards per game.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Kentucky is too talented for any of the other teams in this region. They blow past Indiana, then hammer Baylor in a statement game on their way to the Final Four in New Orleans.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Indiana proves that it has Kentucky’s number. The Hoosiers get Anthony Davis in early foul trouble, and knock down a barrage of threes with guards Jordan Hulls and Will Sheehey. Indiana shocks Kentucky for the second time this year.

CHANCE OF WINNING REGION: 66%. This is the best team in this region, and could be the best in the nation. They are the overwhelming favorites. ‘Nuff said.

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 4 Indiana (27-8, Big Ten)

This shot from Christian Watford will go down in Indiana basketball lore, no matter what happens in the Sweet 16 on Friday. (Photo: IU Athletics/Joe Eke)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: IU beat up on WAC champion New Mexico State and then survived by the skin of their teeth in possibly the game of the tournament so far against VCU.

BURNING QUESTION: Can they beat Kentucky again? Indiana remarkably held Kentucky’s Terrence Jones to 4 points, 1 rebound and 1 assist in 28 minutes in December. That won’t happen again. They also got 20 points from Christian Watford in his coming-out party.

X-FACTOR: Christian Watford, who hit the game-winning three that gave the Hoosiers the win over Kentucky in December and sent Assembly Hall into a state of pandaemonium, averages 12 points and 5.9 rebounds per contest.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: See, 10 December 2011.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Kentucky wants blood in this game, seeking revenge for a defeat that they must relive time and time again on those “Watch ESPN” commercials. The Wildcats blow out the Hoosiers and end a dream season.

CHANCE OF WINNING THE REGION: 13%. This is a pretty good team, too. Indiana has won 27 games this season. Only one team came out of Assembly Hall undefeated on December 10. Still, it’s a tall order to ask a team to beat Kentucky twice in a season. Remember, the Wildcats only lost twice all season period. If they were in a different region, this number would be higher. But they’re not.

PREDICTION: Indiana   Yeah, why not?

Categories: 2012 NCAA Tournament

NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Predictions: 3. Baylor vs. 10. Xavier

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

 Baylor (29-7, Big Twelve)

Brady Heslip knocked down nine threes in Baylor's win over Colorado. (AP Photo/Matt York)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Baylor got an all-time performance from guard Brady Heslip, who drained nine threes and became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the Bears’ win over Colorado in round three. The Bears also took out South Dakota State in the Round of 64, in a hard-fought game.

BURNING-RETINA QUESTION: Will anyone’s eyes survive if Baylor reaches the Final Four? Seriously, I can’t evenm seer thw comptr screen rigfht nw. Adidas probably thinks their new unis are “so fresh,” but really, they’re stale. Baylor might as well re-name itself the “Fighting Highlighters”. The team is 2-0 with their color spectrum-defying unis, but as CBS’ Charles Barkley said, “You have to play good if you’re going to wear those.”

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: Other than blinding opponents with their ridiculously bright uniforms, Baylor is going to have to play with the look of a cohesive team. Too many times the Bears have relied on individual talent, of which they have plenty, rather than playing smarter than its opponents and doing all of the little things it takes to win basketball games. Senior Quincy Acy is the one exception to that, as he has been the team’s glue guy all season. Still, Perry Jones III and the rest of this star-studded lineup needs to learn how to make the extra pass, slide over correctly on a defensive rotation, play the screen-and-roll effectively, and dive for a 50/50 loose ball even if it means losing all of your elbow skin in the process. Those are the types of plays that win championships in basketball, and Baylor just hasn’t made them consistently enough–yet.

X-FACTOR: Brady Heslip. How could it be anyone else? The man knocked down nine threes against Colorado and single-handedly turned a very close, hotly contested game into a Baylor blowout. If he can catch fire again, the Bears stand a good chance of challenging Kentucky.

Mighty-mite guard Pierre Jackson has been spectacular for Baylor this season. (AP Photo)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Baylor’s talent is too much for Xavier, as one of the studs on the best AAU squad in the country (outside of Kentucky) steps up big. The Bears get a break as Indiana upsets Kentucky again, and the Bears overpower the Hoosiers on the way to New Orleans.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Baylor slips by Xavier and is then summarily pummeled by Kentucky, which is every bit as talented as the Bears–and plays just a little bit more like a smart basketball team.

CHANCE TO WIN REGION: 18%. This is a talented team, but it looks as though Kentucky is a little bit better in every area. The Bears could give the Wildcats their biggest challenge on the way to the Final Four, but in the end, Big Blue is just too strong.

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10   Xavier (23-12, Atlantic 10)

Terrell "Tu" Holloway is a big-time player for Xavier. (AP Photo)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Xavier benefited from an almost unbelievable amount of breaks to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth time since 2004. First, they were the beneficiary of an absurd lane violation call against Notre Dame in the second-round game, which occured with 2 seconds left and the Irish bidding to tie the game at the free throw line. Then, the referees added insult to injustice by calling an intentional foul on the ensuing inbounds. Really??? What was this, a Dick Bavetta officiating clinic? If that weren’t enough, the Musketeers benefited from an all-time shocker, as 15th-seeded Lehigh stunned Duke and allowed Xavier to rock the home jerseys as a 10-seed in the Round of 32. Amazing that they even brought those with them to Greensboro.

BURNING QUESTION: Has ‘X’ reclaimed its pre-brawl mojo? Xavier had very high preseason expectations with All-American candidate guard Terrell “Tu” Holloway coming back, but were knocked off track when a mid-season brawl with Cincinnati forced six player suspensions. The Musketeers began the season 8-0 and ranked No. 7 in the nation, but went just 13-12 after the brawl. Now, Xavier finds itself in the Sweet 16.

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: Someone else is going to have to knock out Kentucky. It just doesn’t seem likely that this team can compete with the Wildcats and all of their talent for forty minutes. Anyone else in the region is beatable. But Kentucky….ehhh….no.

X-FACTOR: Kenny Frease.  He caught fire against Lehigh, torching the Mountain Hawks for a career-high 25 points on 11 of 13 shooting. If he can continue that production, Xavier could advance to the Elite Eight.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Tu Holloway has the game of his life in leading a now-clicking Xavier squad to an upset win over Baylor. Indiana knocks out Kentucky, and the Musketeers ride Holloway to another stunning win and a first-ever trip to the Final Four.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Baylor has too many athletes, and wears Xavier down in the second half of the regional semifinal. ‘X’ doesn’t give it to anybody.

CHANCE TO WIN REGION: 3%. Too many things would have to fall perfectly in place, but then, that’s what happened over the first weekend. It would be an incredible story, but that’s mostly because it is so unlikely.

PREDICTION: Baylor 

Categories: 2012 NCAA Tournament

NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Predictions West Region: 1. Michigan State vs. 4. Louisville

March 21, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

1   Michigan State (29-7, Big Ten)

Draymond Green is the most unique player in the tournament, having posted a triple-double against Long Island in Round 2. (AP Photo)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Spartans ousted LIU-Brooklyn and snuck past Saint Louis on their way to the Sweet 16. Draymond Green recorded a triple-double (24 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) in the win over LIU.

BURNING QUESTION: Can Draymond Green pull a Magic Johnson/Mateen Cleaves and lead MSU to a title? Like Cleaves and that guy named Earvin Johnson, who both won national championships at Michigan State, Green is a unique personality. He’s gregarious and outgoing, but on the court he’s a fiery competitor and the heart-and-soul leader of this Spartans team. Now, it’s time

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: Guardplay. Green is a unique, point-center type player, and no one is going to be able to contain him. So, if Michigan State can get solid production from guards Keith Appling (11.5 ppg), and Brandon Wood (8.6 ppg), the Spartans will have a good chance to advance.

X-FACTOR: Brandon Wood. The 6-2 transfer from Valparaiso averaged 8.6 points per game but has hit some big shots down the stretch for the Spartans. Wood averaged 17 points per game at Valpo as a junior, and  can easily go off for 15 or 20. If he does, the Spartans will be tough to beat.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Green pulls off a virtuoso performance in the Sweet 16, and Michigan State outmuscles Louisville. The Spartans advance to take on Florida, who has a rough shooting day and is buried on the glass. MSU marches on to Tom Izzo’s seventh Final Four.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Louisville does to Michigan State what the Spartans did to them in 2009, knocking them off of their No. 1 perch by controlling the pace of play and dominating with guards Peyton Siva and Kyle Kuric.

CHANCES OF WINNING REGION: 28%. Michigan State is tough, and has cagey veterans who have been here before. They’ve also got the best tournament coach in the region (with apologies to Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan), and the best collegiate player in the region. The Spartans should be the favorite to cut down the nets in the West.

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 Louisville (28-9, Big East)

Louisville guard Peyton Siva. (Photo: Dime Magazine)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Cards outclassed Southern Conference champion Davidson, 69-62, before holding off a furious New Mexico rally to knock the Lobos out, 59-56. Louisville has now won six straight games in March, and is red-hot at the perfect time.

BURNING QUESTION: Will the Louisville bigs be able to hang with Michigan State? Gorgui Dieng, Chane Behanan, and the rest of the Cards’ front line will have to rebound against the notoriously tough Spartans, which have absolutely killed teams on the glass under Tom Izzo.

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: L’ville will need to get a lot of production from Chris and Russ Smith, Chane Behanan and Kyle Kuric in order to advance to the Final Four out of the West.

X-FACTOR: Senior guard Kyle Kuric. Kuric averaged 13.1 points per game this season, and shot 33 percent from long-range. Louisville expected a little more from him, but he has a chance to make his entire season by exploding for a 20-plus point game in the tournament.

Freshman forward Chane Behanan. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Russ Smith, Kyle Kuric, and Chane Behanan all have big games, and Peyton Siva works his magic as the Cardinals push past the Spartans in the Sweet 16. Louisville then meets Marquette, which it handled in the Big East tournament, in the Elite Eight. The Cards prove that they have Marquette’s number, rolling over the Golden Eagles en route to the Final Four.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Draymond Green works his magic, and Louisville goes down in the Sweet 16. The Spartans get big games from Keith Appling and Brandon Wood, and aren’t phased by Louisville’s pressure defense. Michigan State

CHANCES OF WINNING REGION: 23%. Louisville is tough to prepare for in a one-game setting because their pressure defense can sink you–and quick. This team has some key seniors in Peyton Siva and Kyle Kuric, but is young everywhere else. It wouldn’t be shocking to watch Rick Pitino lead this group to the Final Four, but it’s not the most likely scenario in this balanced region.

PREDICTION: Michigan State .

Categories: 2012 NCAA Tournament

NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Predictions: West 3. Marquette vs. 7. Florida

March 21, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

 Marquette (27-7, Big East)

Marquette forward Jae Crowder is the Big East Player of the Year. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Golden Eagles‘ run to the Sweet Sixteen has been as impressive as any team in the tournament’s. Marquette squashed BYU like an annoying bug, 88-68, in the second round before ending 31-win Murray State’s dream season in perhaps the most hotly contested and best third-round matchup in the NCAAs. The Racers were a very good basketball team, and Marquette outlasted them behind Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder‘s 17 points and 13 rebounds.

BURNING QUESTION: How good is this team? Marquette finished in second place in the loaded Big East with a 14-4 record. They have a unique talent in Crowder, a 6-6, 235-pound senior forward who averaged 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this season. They also have a bunch of high-energy defenders, and a crafty guard in leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom (18.5 ppg). Still, Marquette hasn’t gotten as much recognition and media attention as they probably deserve.

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: Marquette did a nice job in containing Murray State’s star point guard Isaiah Canaan, who shot just 4-for-17 against the Eagles’ defense in the third round. Marquette is going to have to do the same thing to Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton in the Regional Semifinals, and then will have to contend with either the region’s most unique player in Michigan State’s Draymond Green or its quickest guard in Louisville’s Peyton Siva. Whether or not Marquette can come out of the West is going to depend on how well they fare covering the key offensive threats they’ll face in the region.

Darius Johnson-Odom is Marquette's leading scorer. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

X-FACTOR: Junior Cadougan or Davante Gardner. One of the two key role players on the Golden Eagles must add more scoring punch if Marquette is going to get through to the Final Four. Johnson-Odom and Crowder can’t do it all.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Marquette locks down on Florida’s shooters, Jae Crowder abuses Patric Young inside and the Golden Eagles advance to the Elite Eight. There, they take out Michigan State behind a virtuoso performance from Johnson-Odom and advance to the Final Four.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Florida shoots the lights out against the Golden Eagles, and the Gators’ pressure gets to Marquette. The Golden Eagles go down in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.

 CHANCES OF WINNING REGION: 26%. There are some great teams in this region, and things are going to have to break Marquette’s way, but it is more than feasible to see the Golden Eagles advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 2003.

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7   Florida (25-10, SEC)

Bradley Beal keys the Gators' offensive attack. (Photo/US Presswire)

HOW THEY GOT THERE: The Gators were impressive in dominant wins over 10th-seeded Virginia and 15th-seed Norfolk State. Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal and Erving Walker have all been outstanding in the NCAA Tournament thus far.

BURNING QUESTION: Live by the three, die by the three? Florida is one of the most reliant teams on three-point shooting left in the Dance, but last year’s insistence on bombing up three-pointers in the Elite Eight against Butler cost the Gators a trip to the Final Four. Also, Florida has yet to be tested, winning by 26 and 34 points. The game with Marquette is not going to be like that.

X-FACTOR: Patric Young. The 6-9 forward is going to have to try and neutralize Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder. Young averages 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season, and he’s going to have to come up big if the Gators want to advance.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Florida’s waterbug guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton give the Marquette backcourt fits. Both are feeling it from three-point range, and Marquette is unable to keep up with the Gators’ punishing pace. The Gators get Michigan State in the Elite Eight, and somehow Patric Young is able to handle Draymond Green, while Bradley Beal and the rest of the Gators run past the Spartans on the way to the Final Four.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Marquette is too physical for the Gators inside, and Boynton, Rosario and Walker struggle from the field. Florida bows out in the Sweet 16.

CHANCES OF WINNING REGION: 22%. Billy Donovan has been here before, and he knows what it takes to get his team through a region and into the college basketball promised land. This Florida team was a top-ten preseason pick by us, so we know they’re talented. It’s going to come down to whether or not the guards can stay hot, and whether or not Florida can enforce its pace on the rest of the teams in the West.

 

PREDICTION: Florida 

Categories: 2012 NCAA Tournament

NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Predictions: Midwest Region 1. North Carolina vs. 13. Ohio

March 21, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

Alright, so your bracket is busted. So is everyone else’s. Now it’s time to put away the tissues, wipe your nose on your old bracket and start over. Get back in the game with a Sweet-16 pool, because from here on out the tournament is much more predictable. You can still win something on this thing—even though it won’t feel as glorious as it would have had you picked Lehigh to knock out Duke. So, sit back, relax, and read up on the tournament from here on out. Because everybody deserves a second chance–except Duke. They’re out.

MIDWEST REGION

1   North Carolina (31-5, Atlantic Coast Conference)

All the talk around the Tar Heels surrounds point guard Kendall Marshall's status for the rest of the Tournament. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: North Carolina defeated 16th-seeded Vermont 77-58, in the Round of 64 before outgunning Creighton, 87-73 in Round 3. The Tar Heels just had too many athletes for the Catamounts and Bluejays, and cruised to the Sweet 16.

BURNING QUESTION: Will Kendall Marshall be able to play? And if so, how effective can he be? Marshall suffered a fractured bone in his non-shooting wrist in the win over Creighton, and Tar Heels fans have been in an all-out panic ever since. The injury has a chance to derail what could have been a national championship season for Carolina, and we likely won’t know whether or not Marshall can even suit up until game time on Friday. Even if he can give it a go, he’s not going to be the same. Marshall had been playing his best basketball of the season of late, scoring 18 points and dishing out 11 assists before leaving the Creighton game with 7 minutes to play. He had scored in double figures in five straight games after averaging just 7.8 points per game during the season.

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: The Heels still have one of the most talented teams in the country even without Marshall, but someone is going to have to step up and fill his shoes. The most likely candidate is freshman Stilman White, who played just five minutes against Creighton and has played more than 10 minutes only once all season–in a 50-point blowout of Nicholls State. Senior Justin Watts could also fill the role, although he plays very sparingly and saw just 2 minutes of action in the Round of 32. If Roy Williams decides to go elsewhere, he could look to Harrison Barnes or Reggie Bullock to bring the ball up the floor. Neither of them has played the point in their collegiate careers.

X-FACTOR: Whoever replaces Marshall. That is the biggest question surrounding the Heels right now, and will have an immeasurable impact on North Carolina’s chances going forward.

Harrison Barnes is going to have to step up for North Carolina. (Photo: Draft Hype.com)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Marshall can play, and he gives the Heels at least 50% of his former production. Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller step up big-time, and Carolina cruises to a win over overmatched Ohio. The Heels’ depth proves to be too much for 2nd-seeded Kansas or 11th-seeded N.C. State in the Elite Eight, as big contributions from John Henson, P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo allow them to cut the nets down in St. Louis.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Carolina is discombobulated without its leader and floor general, and struggles to score in the half-court. The ‘Heels have the depth and talent to push past Ohio, but Kansas proves too tough to handle. The Jayhawks get the best of UNC once again on the big stage, and Roy Williams is hounded with questions about losing to his former team for the next eight months.

CHANCE TO WIN REGION: 42%. It’s hard to say how much the Heels will miss Marshall, but this is still a tremendously gifted team. Harrison Barnes (17.4 ppg) will need to step up big-time, but Carolina is still the slight favorite to advance to New Orleans. That’s where things will get tricky for this club.

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13  Ohio (29-7, Mid-American)

D.J. Cooper has been a Tournament star for the Bobcats. (AP Photo)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Ohio took out Michigan in a stirring upset on Friday night, then outlasted South Florida in Round 3. The Bobcats were very impressive in taking out USF, controlling the pace of play and putting up 41 points in the second half against a team that gives up just 51 points per game.

BURNING QUESTION: Can Ohio out-gun the Tar Heels in the Regional Semis? You would think not, but anything is possible without Marshall in the lineup for North Carolina. Bobcats point guard D.J. Cooper is a major talent playing at the mid-major level, and Walter Offut can catch fire. It’s going to be an interesting matchup for sure.

X-FACTOR: Bobcats big men. 6-8 forwards Reggie Keely (9.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Ivo Baltic (8.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg) are going to have to play big inside against the likes of Tyler Zeller and John Henson if Ohio is going to stand a chance of upsetting the Tar Heels.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper controls the pace of the game, Walter Offut goes off for 25-plus, and the Bobcats force plenty of Tar Heel turnovers in a stunning upset. The Bobcats benefit from N.C. State knocking off Kansas, and take out the Wolfpack en route to their first-ever Final Four.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: North Carolina is out to prove it can win without Marshall. The Heels swarm the Bobcats, and cruise to the Elite Eight.

CHANCE TO WIN REGION: 3%. Never say never with mid-majors in this tournament, but the cards seem to be stacked pretty high against Ohio U. They may be the coolest team in the Sweet 16, but unfortunately, they probably won’t be in the Elite Eight.

PREDICTION: North Carolina   

Categories: 2012 NCAA Tournament