All eyes will be on the Wildcats as they pursue history in Indianapolis. You may have heard this somewhere, but Kentucky has yet to lose this season, and the pressure will be cranked to 11 as they stand just two wins from something that hasn’t been seen in 39 years. John Calipari’s team is young, but it is long, it is poised, it plays with a lot of heart and has the kind of swagger that is normally seen on its way into the wrestling ring. UK expects to win, and it acts like it at all times.
Strengths: Let’s see. Do you like size? Kentucky can pound the ball inside to Karl-Anthony Towns. Or Willie Cauley-Stein. Or Trey Lyles. Or Dakari Johnson. Do you like quickness on the perimeter? Kentucky can turn to Tyler Ulis to break down opponents off the bounce, or Aaron Harrison can make teams pay with his physical presence on the perimeter.
Devin Booker can score inside and out and is fearless with the ball. The Wildcats keep coming at teams and count on opponents wearing down late, and the team’s defense is as good as any you’ll find in the country. And if by some chance an opponent gets to the rim, Towns or Cauley-Stein or any of the bigs are there to swat shots away. Oh, and this is an unselfish group – nobody averages more than 11.0 points a game or 6.6 boards a game. Their balance and depth are scary.
Weaknesses: It’s tough to find a weak spot for the Wildcats, but one could be the team’s inconsistent shooting from 3-point range. UK only shoots 34.7 percent from distance, and only two Wildcats – Booker and Ulis – make more than 40 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. The Wildcats can lose focus at times early in games, and they’ve come perilously close to losing on a number of occasions this year, including their Elite Eight escape from Notre Dame.
How They Beat Teams: The mystique of this team can’t be overlooked. UK is so big, so talented and so athletic that just convincing opponents that they have a shot at winning isn’t easy. It takes a special coach to instill a belief that Goliath can be defeated. It hasn’t actually happened yet, and part of the reason is the fact UK can play so many different ways.
The ‘Cats can run, they can grind in a halfcourt set, and they can turn up the defense to a point that opposing guards can barely think. They wear teams down psychologically and take advantage of every mistake.
How They Get Beat: The bus gets lost? We’re not really sure how to beat Kentucky because nobody has done it yet this season, but a few teams have come close. Step One of being competitive and putting yourself in a position to win is to handle the initial punch in the mouth UK delivers without backing down. Notre Dame did that, and it matched UK’s intensity on both ends.
Kentucky also can shift into cruise control at times and count on its ability to turn up its game to make a run that saves the season. The pressure of the Final Four could change that equation a bit, especially for the freshmen, and a poised, experienced team could be exactly the combination to take UK down.