I know I am supposed to be the Negative Nancy of this site, but I probably have the highest opinion of this team of any writer here. I have said it since Maui that I think this team has enough to make the Final Four. Would I bet they are going? No. But people who write them off as having no shot at making it to Houston I think are missing the point of what has generally made a Final Four team. Despite having more talent last year, the lack of a good shooter really came up to bite them. This year’s team does not seem to have that problem. Here are 5 keys as to why I think this COULD be a Final Four team still:
1) Point Guards Important, Centers Not Important
2010: Jon Scheyer
2009: Ty Lawson
2008: Mario Chalmers
2007: Taurean Green
2006: Taurean Green
2005: Raymond Felton
2004: Taliek Brown
2003: Gerry McNamara
2002: Steve Blake
2001: Jay Williams
There are you last 10 starting point guards on national championship teams. All 10 were key contributors on their teams. Or more accurately, their teams could not have gone to the Final Four without them. At the center position, you have guys like Brian Zoubek, Deon Thompson, Darrell Arthur and Craig Forth. Have their been great centers on some of these teams? No doubt. Emeka Okafor, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah come to mind. But, as the list above shows, you CAN NOT make a final four, much less compete for a national title, without a strong point guard. Why do you think Cal recruits point guards so heavy? They are the most important player in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky has a stud in Brandon Knight. This is a HUGE positive.
2) Only good teams beat Cal in tournament
2010 (1 seed): Lost to 2 seed in Elite Eight
2009 (2 seed): Lost to 3 seed in Sweet 16
2008 (1 seed): Lost to 1 seed in National Championship
2007 (2 seed): Lost to 1 seed in Elite Eight
2006: (1 seed): Lost to 2 seed in Elite Eight
2004 (7 seed): Lost to 2 seed in 2ndRound
1996 (1 seed): Lost to 1 seed in Final Four
1995 (6 seed): Lost to 2 seed in Elite Eight
In Calipari’s last 8 trips to the NCAA Tournament, he has not lost to a team seeded worse than 3rd. That says that Cal’s teams don’t slip up against inferior opponents, aka lose to a 12 or 13 seed in the first round. In fact, it tells me that Cal’s team generally have big success in that 2nd round game against 4, 5, and 6 seeds. Many coaches can’t say the same things, like Bill Self or Bo Ryan. Point is, you can feel comfortable that Cal’s teams make it into the 2nd week, and the after that, in 1-game scenarios, UK’s talent matches up with just about anybody.
3) Most teams don’t have good big men this year
Ohio State has Jared Sullinger. And who else has a dominant center this year? I guess Trey Thompkins could be in the mix for 2nd best big man. Maybe Jajuan Johnson. Renardo Sidney? Mason Plumlee? And frankly, if UK gets matched up against those teams, particularly Ohio State, then it will likely be lights out. But this is a 68-team tournament now, and if UK only has 2-3 teams to worry about in the post, odds are they will not have to face them. Everybody acts as if the inability to stop the post will be UK’s downfall. I would argue this is true, except it’s unlikely UK will have to face any of those teams. It’s unlikely UK will be in the same region as Ohio State. In fact, it’s a 75% chance that UK will not be in their bracket. Personally, I like those odds.
4) The NCAA Tournament is a Crap Shoot
If Kentucky had to go through a gauntlet against Syracuse, Duke, Ohio State, and Texas to make the Final Four, then I would agree that it would be unlikely that UK makes it. But, have we not watched enough of these tournaments to agree they rarely work out the way we think. Last year, Butler made the Final Four as a 4 seed, where many projections have Kentucky right now. They beat a 13, 12, 1, and 2 seed to make the Final Four. Michigan State also made the Final Four as a 5 seed last year. They beat a 12, 4, 8, and 6 seed to make it. Why do we always assume the road will be extremely tough for Kentucky? What if they get Michigan State’s run this year? Even Butler only had to pull 1 upset to make the Final Four. Are you saying in a 1 game scenario Kentucky couldn’t beat anybody in country not named Ohio State? I certainly think they can, which gives them just as good a shot as any.
5) This team shoots well, rebounds well, and doesn’t turn the ball over
Those 3 things are generally things that teams either have or they don’t. Last year’s team did not shoot the ball well, as shown by the West Virginia game. Plus, they turned the ball over in stretches. Do you really see this team having an 0-18 night? Do you really see them turning the ball over 20 times in a game? This team has proven there are certain things you can depend on with them: solid or great shooting, care of the ball, and good on the glass. In games where they have been outrebounded, they have been defeated. That has happened very rarely this season. This team has individual flaws, but very few TEAM flaws. That will serve them well come March.