Will Kentucky escape the upset in Men’s NCAA tourney?
The Kentucky Wildcats have continued to convincingly mow down their opponents whether they appeared on their 2014-15 schedule as non-conference foes or belonged to the Southeastern Conference for the regular season or the post-season playoffs.
The ‘Cats boast the only unblemished record (34-0) in Division I and have had a few close calls en route to their perfect season so far. They nipped Ole Miss 89-86 in overtime Jan. 6 and in their very next game went double-overtime to subdue Texas A&M in College station 70-64.
Kentucky had another close call Feb. 10 at Baton Rouge, edging past LSU 71-69. Despite those three nail-biters, the NCAA Selection Committee had an easy time making Kentucky the No. 1 overall seed for the entire 68-team tourney.
A total of 19 college teams have entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated, with seven going on to win the national championship including UCLA under Head Coach John Wooden who won it all in 1964, 1967, 1972 and 1973. The last team to win the NCAA Tournament undefeated was Bobby Knight’s Indiana team in 1976.
The four leaders of Knight’s undefeated team—Quinn Buckner, Scott May, Tom Abernathy and Bobby Wilkerson– were all seniors which is a rarity today with the most talented underclassmen opting to exit college early for the NBA.
By contrast, Kentucky’s starting lineup Sunday against Arkansas didn’t have one senior. In fact, the team has only five upper classmen (juniors and seniors) on its 16-man roster.
The most recent team that went into the tournament undefeated was Wichita State last year, which also boasted a 34-0 record.
Kentucky, which is the top seed in the Midwest Regional, isn’t expected to suffer an upset en route to the Sweet 16 or probably to the Final Four.
The Texas Longhorns, who were lucky to even get in the tournament, are the No. 11 seed and for some reason are a 1½-point favorite in their opening-round match-up with No. 6 Butler tomorrow (Thurs.). The ‘Horns have a distinct size advantage over guard-oriented Butler.
Another team to watch in the Midwest Regional is No. 12 Buffalo, which is coached by two-time NCAA champion and Duke alum Bobby Hurley, and have won eight in a row. The Bulls take on No. 5 West Virginia on Friday.
My personal favorite team, the Duke Blue Devils (29-4), was selected as the No. 1 seed in the South Regional which plays both the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds at NRG Stadium in Houston.
According to Monday’s edition of The Houston Chronicle, the last time the Blue Devils played in Houston and the Final Four was in Indianapolis (the same set-up as this year) was in 2010, when Duke beat Butler for the national title.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is the winningest coach in Division I, is in his 35th year of coaching and is bringing his Blue Devils to their 20th straight NCAA Tournament.
This marks the 13th time Duke has been a No. 1 seed, and each of the previous 12 times the Blue Devils have reached the Sweet 16, according to the Chronicle article. They open the tourney Friday against the winner of Wednesday night’s game between North Florida and Robert Morris.
The Blue Devils should be challenged by No. 2 seed Gonzaga (32-2) which has the strength inside and scoring ability to play them on an even keel. A dark horse team to watch has to be No. 12-seeded Southland Conference Champion Stephen F. Austin (29-4) which has won 28 of its last 29 games and meets No. 5 Utah Thursday.
Villanova is the top seed in the East Regional and will have a difficult time reaching the Final Four with the likes of such strong teams as No. 2 Virginia (29-3), No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Louisville and No. 5 Northern Iowa.
The West Regional is headed by top-seeded Wisconsin (31-3), which will have a hard time subduing No. 2 Arizona (31-3) who lost a heart-breaking 64-63 overtime loss to Wisconsin last season in the West Regional finals.
The upset special in this region could very well be No. 13 Harvard over No. 3 North Carolina tomorrow.
There are five teams from the Lone Star State in this year’s NCAA Tournament besides Texas and SFA—No. 3 Baylor, No. 6 SMU and No. 15 Texas Southern—with LSU the only school from Louisiana to get invited.
And no other conference has more teams in the NCAA Tournament than the Big 12 with seven (Kansas State Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma State). The Big Ten also has seven teams, the ACC has six, the Big East and Southeastern Conference have five and the Pac-12 has four.
KWICKIES…The Texas Aggies are disappointed they weren’t chosen to play in the NCAA Tournament but also are happy to be one of the better teams playing in the 32-team National Invitational Tournament. The Aggies (20-11) hosted Montana Tuesday in the first round with the winner facing the winner of Louisiana Tech-Central Michigan. The Aggies had not made the NCAA or NIT postseasons in Head Coach Billy Kennedy’s first three seasons, so Sunday night’s announcement to play in the NIT was good news.
The Lamar Lady Cardinals choked away a 14-point second half lead to Northwestern State Saturday and then lost the Southland Conference semifinal game 70-64 in overtime to the Lady Demons, who ended up defeating Houston Baptist 58-50 in the championship game Sunday and getting an automatic bid into the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
Free-agent former New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork said Monday that he will sign a contract to play with the Houston Texans for the 2015 season according to ESPN. Wilfork, 33, will be entering his 12th NFL season after being released by the Patriots recently. Wilfork will be reunited with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who coached him at New England.
A 30-foot birdie putt on the third extra hole made a winner out of 21-year old Texan Jordan Spieth Sunday in the Valspar Championship at Palm Harbor, Fla. The PGA victory was the second for Spieth, who joins Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia as the only players to win twice before their 22nd birthday. Spieth was in a three-way playoff with Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair. The victory boosted him to a career-high No. 6 in the world.
ESPN also announced that Tim Tebow worked out for the Philadelphia Eagles Monday. He reportedly didn’t sign a contract or anything and hasn’t played since 2012 with the New York Jets.
JUST BETWEEN US…As the spring training exhibition season draws to a close, I wonder if the Houston Astros’ new regime will handle the players on the bubble who are having great springs the way it used to be done. Hard-throwing Asher Wojciechowski hasn’t given up a run all spring as he fights for the fifth spot in the Astros’ starting rotation when the season starts. But he probably will get sent down to the minors to start the season while some washed-up veteran makes the team. The same thing can be said about 29-year-old Luis Valbuena, who was traded to Houston by the Chicago Cubs after having a career year in 2014 with the Cubbies. Valbuena was supposed to challenge third baseman Matt Dominguez for his starting job and has responded so far this spring by batting .526 with three doubles, one homer and five RBIs and should be the favorite to start at the hot corner in April. Often times great spring trainings don’t amount to a hill of beans for some organizations that already have their 25-man rosters penciled in at Christmas time.