Keep Calm And Pick Kentucky: Why The Wildcats Will Avoid An Upset
After a blowout win to start the NCAA tournament (in which all bench players stepped on the court), Kentucky still looks like they're at the top of their game, despite Coach Calipari's stern post-game interview face.
While it is March and a lot of fans of college basketball want to see an underdog stun this remarkable run, the odds are against those whose brackets don't have Kentucky winning it all.
Although the players are probably thinking nothing of it, there is a lot of cash riding on these young men to win the national championship, as well. Some have bet as much as $50,000 on the Wildcats, and betting started as early as last year.
After last year's loss to the UConn Huskies, Kentucky already had 12-1 odds to win this year's title.
If you're a firm believer in the saying, "Numbers never lie," then you certainly have an argument for anyone who doesn't think Kentucky will win next year.
Entering this year's tournament, FiveThirtyEight, a subdivision of ESPN dealing with statistics, predicted Kentucky has a 41 percent chance to win it all and finish with a perfect season.
To put that into perspective, FiveThirtyEight calculated Louisville as the favorite to win last year, with a 15 percent chance to win, and that team lost to last year's Kentucky team in the Sweet 16.
After the win against Hampton in the first round, FiveThirtyEight's updated forecast now gives Kentucky a 37 percent chance to win, which is still much higher than any favorite in the past couple of years.
The teams with the next highest odds to win are Duke (7-1), Villanova (7-1), Arizona (8-1), Wisconsin (8-1) and Virginia (10-1), with a drop-off in percentages after those teams.
"But, an upset could happen at any moment," some might still be thinking. Yes, there is a possibility.
But, after looking at the Power Indexes of the teams in the Midwest and West Regions (in other words, all of Kentucky's potential opponents leading up to the title game) and seeing that no team besides Wisconsin has more than a 1 percent chance of winning it all, it's even harder to bet against Kentucky.
ESPN agrees this is definitely Kentucky's deepest team in years, with eight potential NBA draft prospects. Calipari is known for his strong waves of recruiting, and Kentucky has been revered as a "one-and-done" school for eventual NBA stars.
While he is aware of his NBA talent production, that isn't all Calipari focuses on. When he speaks to the media, you can tell his main focus is building his coaching legacy at Kentucky.
He's constantly being questioned on how these young guys can handle the pressure of possible NCAA immortality, and has some pretty good answers:
Listen, they're human. They're young kids playing basketball. Just be the best version of you right now, and that's good enough. I'm just on it every day. We turn our phones off at dinner...this has been a ball for me. These kids are just great kids, and I'm coaching them hard. I'm probably harder on Karl (Towns) than anyone on this team, because I see how good he could be.
Calipari's hard coaching and off-the-court discipline is certainly reflected in his players, who all seem calm and collected heading into this tournament just like their coach.
Coach Cal stresses the idea that the kids he recruits are kids who must be willing to play into everything he tells them, and be willing to get better by his instruction.
If there are any untouchables this Kentucky team has that will contribute to their championship run, it is certainly Coach Calipari's unparalleled discipline on and off the court.
FiveThirtyEight said the last team with power rankings comparable to this year's Kentucky team was the 1999 Duke team, comprised of Corey Maggette and Elton Brand, among others. However, that team lost to Rip Hamilton's Huskies in the championship game by three.
Again, while one should never rule out the possibility of an upset (even in the championship game), Kentucky just seems too dominant to lose, and it is overwhelming to watch them dominate games.
All numbers aside, it's tough to beat this team from the inside with twin-towers Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein guarding the paint. On the perimeter, the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, boast wingspans wider than most guards, helping them lock down on defense.
This Kentucky team is a team that turns defense into offense much better than any other team in the nation. While some have commented on their weaknesses in half-court offense, the problem for other teams is not so much stopping them on offense, but breaking their defense down.
And, while teams have tried drawing big men out of the paint with pick-and-roll action or shooting threes until their arms fall off, most agree that a record-breaking, miraculously unconscious shooting night is the only recipe for beating a team this good.