Vegas advises to take Kentucky against the field. Larry Brown claims the Wildcats would make the NBA Playoffs if they were in the Eastern Conference. Even Louisville's own Rick Pitino stated that it would take a Villanova-esque performance circa 1985 to defeat John Calipari's mercenaries. UK is good, undefeated, and loaded with future NBA talent, but there are five teams not named Kentucky in the field of 68 that have their sights set on cutting down the nets in Indy.
Here is my unbiased, just the facts examination of the 2014/2015 Wildcats. Kentucky has only played three games this season against teams the experts, fans, and odds makers argue have a somewhat legitimate chance at the Final Four. These three teams have combined for 27 losses, are not conference tournament champions, are no one's favorite to win the title, and are named North Carolina, Louisville, and Kansas. Kentucky's last opponent worth paying attention to was Louisville, a game played 81 days ago and Calipari's mercenaries have been unchallenged by the most pathetic SEC of my lifetime. Beginning Saturday, UK will finally face actual competition so excuse me if I do not put the cart before the horse.
Here are the five teams that may be taking home the title come April 6th:
The other Wildcats are one of the best and most overlooked teams in the entire tournament. Villanova has the second best record in college basketball, were Big East regular season champions and tournament champions, and aside from Kentucky, are the most balanced team in the country. Villanova has six players averaging between nine points and 14 points a game, their roster is stock full of upper classmen who have been there done that, they are 13th in assists per game, and Jay Wright has been to the Final Four. Villanova is for real.
As Louisville learned in January, Duke is big, athletic, and good. Next to Kentucky, the Blue Devils have the most future NBA draft picks and possess arguably the best big man in basketball. Coach K has more tournament success than any other coach in the field and Duke is motivated after an embarrassing loss a year ago. If that wasn't evidence enough, Duke has the easiest path to a Final Four in tournament history, and the best two teams in their region will play each other (Iowa State/SMU). Duke is basically a lock to make it to Indianapolis.
3. Notre Dame
Mike Brey and his Irish are in unfamiliar territory. Notre Dame successfully captured the ACC Tournament Trophy and is considered a plausible threat to upend Kentucky. Notre Dame and the NCAA Tournament are not friends according to history, but this Irish squad is the first worth betting on. Notre Dame shot 51% for the season in a conference with some of the best defensive teams in the nation. Jerian Grant is one of the best and most athletic playmakers in the tournament and Pat Connaughton made 44% of his 202 attempted three pointers. Brey's squad is also very balanced with four players averaging over 12 points per contest. Notre Dame beat Louisville at Louisville, Michigan State, UNC twice, and Duke twice. The Irish are deep, athletic, and the best shooting team in the tournament. Notre Dame is looking for home court advantage in Indianapolis; don't be surprised to see them there.
Arizona's schedule isn't much to write home about and the Pac-12 is almost as atrocious as the SEC, but Sean Miller's team is ready to bounce back after the disappointing elite eight loss a season ago. Arizona is 6th in the country in field goal percentage, scores nearly 77 points per game, and T.J. McConnell averages 6.4 assists a game with a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. Point guards are a necessity for a deep run in March Madness and Zona has their stud. Also, if there is a coach more overdue than Sean Miller I'd like to know his name. Miller has three elite eight appearances in his first 10 seasons and two other sweet 16's. Miller has knocked on the door so often that eventually the damn thing will just break open. Arizona's path is pretty straight forward until the elite eight where either North Carolina or Wisconsin will wait for them. Good luck Wildcats.
Finally, there are my Louisville Cardinals. Louisville has the most valuable and unique power forward in the tournament, a hall of fame coach who has a number of March Madness records, and Terry Rozier, who before his slump was a leading candidate for First Team All-America. The Cardinals are an inconsistent unknown that love to go ice cold from the field, but experience and favorable matchups are on their side. Louisville's toughest matchup may be Northern Iowa, a methodical and force-you-to-play-ugly type of team, but if Louisville escapes Seattle look out. Coach Pitino is 11-1 in the sweet 16 and has a favorable familiarity with Jay Wright and Villanova. These Cardinals are unlike any other, but there is only one defensive powerhouse in their region and Louisville wouldn't see Virginia until the elite eight. Prove em wrong Louisville, I'll live on I-65 for weeks if you get us back to the promised land.
The tournament is going to be a blast. 2014 gave us a seven seed defeating an eight and I don't expect 2015 to be too much different. On any given night something unimaginable may happen, the madness is back and Kentucky will not be the 2015 National Champion.