Duke Blue Devils center Jahlil Okafor looks to pass as North Carolina State Wolfpack forward Abdul-Malik Abu and forward Lennard Freeman and guard Anthony Barber defend in the first half in the quarter finals of the ACC Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Most years, when March Madness rolls around and the NCAA Tournament bracket is released, the main question that is asked is: who will be this year’s Cinderella team that will wreck nearly every avid fan’s bracket?
However, this time around, the question will be: will the Kentucky Wildcats make it to 40-0 and become the first team since 1976 to finish the season undefeated as NCAA champions?
The team that accomplished that feat in 1976 was the Indiana Hoosiers, who went 32-0 under head coach Bobby Knight and had seven players from that team drafted by NBA franchises. But is it possible for a team to accomplish something so significant that has not happened in 39 years?
If there is any team for the foreseeable future that can do it, it is this Kentucky team. The Wildcats (34-0) have outscored their opponents by an average of 20.9 points per game, feature a deep nine-man rotation filled with McDonald’s All-Americans and could realistically have ten players from their current roster drafted in the first round in future NBA drafts.
To beat Kentucky, it will take a team that can matchup size-wise as the Wildcats’ starting lineup features three players 6-feet, 10-inches or taller and does not have a player shorter than 6-feet, 6-inches.
Second, for any team hoping to top Kentucky, they will need a litany of shooters that can light it up from deep. The Wildcats’ biggest weakness is their offense, with only three rotational players shooting better than 31 percent from 3-point land. Any team that wishes to beat them will have to outscore them and with their size, a lot of those points will have to come from the perimeter.
But who could potentially ruin the Wildcats’ chase of perfection? There are four potential teams that could pull off the upset—Villanova, Gonzaga, Wisconsin and Duke.
Villanova (32-2) is one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, making 38.9 percent of its attempts from deep, and they have six players in the rotation that shoot at least 37 percent from behind the arc. Villanova also has the size to matchup with Kentucky as all but one of its starters are 6-feet, 5-inches tall.
Gonzaga (32-2) is led by one of the best players in the nation in Kyle Wiltjer (16.7 PPG), and the Bulldogs shoot 40.2 percent from deep. They also have the size with a 7-foot, 1-inch center in Przemek Karnowski and Wiltjer who is 6-feet, 10-inches and can step out and shoot it from the perimeter. Wiltjer’s ability to stretch the floor as a big man will force one of Kentucky’s rim protectors to the outside, minimizing Kentucky’s size advantage.
Wisconsin (31-3) is one of the scarier matchup teams in the nation as all five starters can shoot it from the outside and the Badgers have the size to compete with Kentucky with three starters at least 6-feet, 8-inches and their two guards are both 6-feet, 3-inches. Frank Kaminsky is on the short list for the Wooden Award, given to the top player in college basketball, and is a terror for any defense to guard.
He is a rare 7-footer with the ability to play inside and outside, but also has the ability to put the ball on the deck and drive to the goal. He single-handedly makes the Badgers a threat to Kentucky, but their rotation features three other players with NBA talent.
The team with the best chance to knock off Kentucky is the Duke Blue Devils (29-4). Freshman phenom Jahlil Okafor is the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and has the best post game offensively of any college player over the last decade.
Okafor has the ability to score any time he touches the ball, shooting an otherworldly 66.9 percent from the field and averages 17.7 points per game to go along with nine rebounds and 1.4 blocks. But Okafor is far from alone on the Blue Devils.
Senior Quinn Cook is the heart and soul of the team, averaging 15.7 points per game and shooting 40 percent from deep. Freshmen Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones both shoot it well from deep and have the size and athleticism to matchup with the Wildcats’ best.
Duke may be the best offensive team in the nation, but its biggest hurdle will be their defense. The Blue Devils have given up at least 70 points on 12 occasions this season, but luckily for them, Kentucky’s only weakness is their aforementioned offense.
The biggest hurdle facing these teams that hope to knock off Kentucky is having the opportunity to play the Wildcats. Only Wisconsin has the chance to play Kentucky before the title game while Villanova, Gonzaga and Duke are on the other side of the bracket.
I see Kentucky getting past Wisconsin in the Final Four and Duke knocking off Gonzaga in the Elite Eight and Villanova in the Final Four, leaving the Wildcats’ final hurdle for perfection as Duke in the National Championship game.
It could be a game for the ages if Duke is hitting their perimeter shots or Kentucky could simply run away with it if the Blue Devils go cold from behind the arc. Kentucky will ultimately win 74-68 and finish their historic run 40-0, becoming the first team in nearly four decades to go undefeated and win the Tourney.