The 68-team bracket for the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships – aka “the NCAA Tournament” – was unveiled on CBS Television Sunday evening.
So, on first glance, what are the chances of anyone toppling the Kentucky Wildcats on their way to a national championship and 40-0 record as the first unbeaten college hoops team in 39 years?
They’re the same as they were before all the talking heads began the pontification battles once the bracket was public knowledge:
They fall somewhere between “slim-skis” and “none-skis”.
The Wildcats will get a glorified public workout in Louisville Thursday against the winner of the Tuesday “First Four” confrontation between 16 seeds Hampton and Manhattan.
A second-round Saturday game with Purdue or Cincinnati will probably offer the same kind of challenge that all but a couple of their games in Lexington did this season (specifically Buffalo and Mississippi).
The Big Blue Nation’s caravan will be in force in Cleveland next week for a Mideast Regional semifinal against, likely, West Virginia or Maryland. Either of those clubs wouldn’t be steamrolled. I don’t think they would, anyway.
By Elite Eight time (March 28), there has to be an opponent with something approaching a legitimate of stopping the Wildcats, right?
If there is, Notre Dame seems to have the components to do the deed, via the presence of senior playmaker Jerian Grant and the multitude of terrific jumpers Coach Mike Brey has around him.
If they’re 4-0 at this point, waiting for them in Indianapolis on April will be the West Regional winner, likely either top seed Wisconsin or No. 2 Arizona.
And a game against either the Badgers or Wildcats could, in essence, prove a more difficult chore than what John Calipari’s crew might face two nights later in the national title game.
Remember how close the Badgers came to beating the Wildcats in the 2014 Final Four semifinals in Texas (losing 74-73 via an Aaron Harrison 3 with 5.7 seconds to go)?
Well, Arizona was every bit as close to knocking off the Badgers in the West Regional final a year ago (falling 64-63 in OT).
The best player on that Wisconsin squad – now-senior 7-footer Frank Kaminsky, the most skilled big fellow in college – still wears a Badgers uniform.
And that’s the biggest reason why Wisconsin could knock off the Wildcats once more in a West final and reverse the semifinal decision of a year ago.
Top seeds Villanova and Virginia (in the East) and Duke and Gonzaga (in the South) have much more pronounced chances of dropping from the field, as early as the third round, than do the favorites (Kentucky, Wisconsin and Arizona) on the other side of the bracket.
Virginia’s half-court defense and offensive patience would provide challenges to Kentucky in the national finale, as could Jahlil Okafor and his Duke freshmen classmates, Villanova’s underrated balance and physicality, and Gonzaga’s size and skill (mostly by way of former UK Wildcat Kyle Wiltjer and senior point guard Kevin Pangos).
When the day – or more accurately, the night – is done in Indianapolis on April 6, how many of us are going to be surprised if Calipari and his players aren’t the fellows cutting down twine?
That’s rhetorical, of course: the answer is “lots and lots”.
This week’s updated Power 16, regardless of NCAA tourney seeds.
Rank (Last week’s rank)
1. Kentucky (1)
|FIRST UP: Hampton or Manhattan (Thursday/Louisville/Midwest)|
2. Wisconsin (4)
|FIRST UP: Coastal Carolina (Friday/Omaha/West)|
3. Arizona (6)
|FIRST UP: Texas Southern (Thursday/Portland/West)|
4. Duke (2)
|FIRST UP: North Florida or Robert Morris (Friday/Charlotte/South)|
5. Villanova (3)
|FIRST UP: Lafayette (Thursday/Pittsburgh/East)|
6. Virginia (5)
|FIRST UP: Belmont (Friday/Charlotte/East)|
7. Gonzaga (7)
|FIRST UP: North Dakota State (Friday/Seattle/South)|
8. Notre Dame (9)
|FIRST UP: Northeastern (Thursday/Pittsburgh/Midwest)|
9. Northern Iowa (8)
|FIRST UP: Wyoming (Friday/Seattle/East)|
10. Maryland (10)
|FIRST UP: Valparaiso (Friday/Columbus, OH/Midwest)|
11. Wichita State (11)
|FIRST UP: Indiana (Friday/Omaha/Midwest)|
12. Iowa State (13)
|FIRST UP: UAB (Thursday/Louisville/South)|
13. Kansas (12)
|FIRST UP: New Mexico State (Friday/Omaha/Midwest)|
14. Michigan St. (NR)
|FIRST UP: Georgia (Friday/Charlotte/East)|
15. North Carolina (NR)
|FIRST UP: Harvard (Thursday/Jacksonville/West)|
16. SMU (NR)
|FIRST UP: UCLA (Friday/Louisville/South)|
NEXT 16: Baylor (10) 24-9; Utah (17) 24-8; Oklahoma (11) 22-10; Providence (22) 22-11; Louisville (15) 24-8l Oregon (30) 25-9; Purdue (36) 21-12; VCU (28) 26-9; Ohio State (39) 23-10; Georgetown (16) 21-10; West Virginia (19) 23-9; Butler (23) 22-10; North Carolina State (31) 20-13; BYU (44) 25-9; Georgia (40) 21-11 and Boise State (45) 25-8.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK (March 9-15)
*Brandon Ashley (Arizona): The junior forward averaged 19.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while connecting on 19 of 26 shots from the floor in the Wildcats three Pac 12 tournament victories, earning MOP honors in the process.
*Jerian Grant (Notre Dame): He didn’t bag ACC regular season POY honors but he did pick up ACC tourney MOP kudos after averaging 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in wins against Miami, Duke and North Carolina.
*Peter Hooley (Albany): His 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds to go gave his team the American East tourney title game victory over Stony Brook and provided the weekend’s most emotional moment. The Australian’s mother died six weeks ago after a long battle with cancer.
*Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin): Was the Big Ten Tournament’s MOP, averaging 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists in wins over Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State – helping to rally his team from an 11-point deficit with about seven minutes to go in the title tilt.
*Georges Niang (Iowa State): The Cyclones cut it close in every Big 12 tourney games – knocking off Texas and Oklahoma by two points each, and Kansas by four (after trailing by 14 points at intermission). He averaged 18.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
Frank Burlison has been covering hoops for 30+ years for a variety of publications.
Follow Frank on twitter @FrankieBur. Also make sure to follow his website at www.burlisononbasketball.com. College coaching staffs interested in Burlison’s scouting service should contact him at [email protected]