By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
My goodness, the NCAA Tournament landscape changed for the Kentucky Wildcats over the course of four days. Last Wednesday, on the eve of the tournament, the Cats were not favored to survive the first weekend of the tournament.
Many “experts” thought UK would not get past first round opponent Davidson, and even if they did, Arizona would bring the season to a pre-mature end in the second round. However, these “experts” were wrong about Davidson, and by the end of Thursday evening, Arizona was toast, falling to Buffalo by 20 points.
These same “experts” yawned and proclaimed that it matters not because the Wildcats from Lexington could not get past might Virginia in the Sweet 16 should Kentucky take advantage of Buffalo’s gift and advance to the Sweet 16. When all the dust settled on the NCAA’s Friday first round games, Virginia did not survive, and had to be removed from the rubble left behind by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), effective clearing a path for the Cats into the Elite 8 where the experts proclaimed that either Tennessee or Cincinnati would undo the Wildcats’ dream of another trip to the Final Four for a Coach Calipari Kentucky team.
However, the NCAA Basketball gods shouted at all the self-proclaimed “experts,” “Not so fast, slick, We are not finished with paving the way for this group of Wildcats who have been victimized in recent years by devious seeding and questionable officiating.” By the time the dust settled on the second round of the tournament, both Cincinnati and Tennessee were littering the shoulder of the highway, left in the rubble of losers by Nevada and Loyola Chicago. The path to the final four has been cleared, and the Wildcats now have their destiny in this tournament within their own hands.
The experts are reeling from all of these developments within the South Region. They believed they had stacked the deck and placed sufficient obstacles to Kentucky’s progress in place, but the best laid plans of mice and men are often taken apart by providence. Now some of these “experts” wish to reseed the remaining 16 teams, presumably to put new obstacles in Kentucky’s path.
The Cats have played their last 10 games at championship levels.
Few, if any, teams still standing in this year’s Sweet 16 can match this quality of play down the stretch. The Sagarin Ratings has published a end of season ranking based on how teams have finished, and Sagarin has Kentucky sitting atop the list of all the sweet 16 members. In my book, that means if the Cats take care of business, they are 4 wins away from #9.
First up, Kansas State because they sent UMBC back to Baltimore in a “defensive” struggle that ended with a 50-43 KSU win. KSU will bring a 24-11 record into this NCAA Sweet 16 game. The KSU schedule has been competitive, having a strength of 0.0894 ppp (#39). The KSU adjusted offensive efficiency has been 1.117 ppp, and its adjusted defensive efficiency has been 0.957 ppp. In contrast, the Kentucky offensive and defensive efficiency have been 1.157 ppp and 0.951 ppp respectively. Kentucky’s offense has been more efficient and the Kentucky defense has been much more efficient than KSU’s.
The Kentucky Wildcats have faced the KSU Wildcats nine times, winning every game. These teams have played twice in the NCAA tournament, in 1951 (A UK National Championship Season) with Kentucky winning 68-58, and in 2014 in route to the Championship game, Kentucky won 56-43.
The strong finish that the Cats have had has been a topic of regular discussion for the last 2 to 3 weeks. However, KSU has also finished the season strong as compared to the season averages. Kentucky’s last 10 games have produced 9 wins and one loss, while playing at an average ANE over those ten games of 0.315 ppp as compared to the season average 0.213 ppp. KSU’s season long ANE is 0.152 ppp, but KSU has played at a higher level over its last 10 games, posting an average ANE for those games of 0.202 ppp, and a 7-3 record.
Kentucky is favored to beat KSU by 5 points, 74-69 in a game played at a pace of 67 possessions. Pomeroy sees this game in Kentucky’s favor by 4 points, 71-67 at a pace of 66 possessions. Vegas opened with Kentucky a 6 point favorite, but the Vegas line has slipped to the current 5 ½ points.
Use the following link to see how other UK fans handicap this game at 247Sports, The Cats Pause message board:
You can participate in the score prediction contest at 247Sports at the following link: