The Kentucky Wildcats are entering the 2015 NCAA tournament with a 34-0 record and a realistic chance at becoming the first men’s college basketball team to have a perfect season since the 1975-1976 Indiana Hoosiers. The Wildcats are the heavy favorites to be the team cutting down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on April 6, but there is no doubting that they will be tested along the way.
The reality of the situation may be that the only team that can legitimately beat Kentucky is Kentucky itself. As John Calipari’s crew inched closer and closer toward achieving a perfect regular season, the pressure to win continued to grow, and the Wildcats fought off the unrelenting efforts of every team on their schedule. Even in games when they didn’t play their best basketball, the Wildcats always found a way to scrape out a win.
Calipari may be turning in the best coaching job of his illustrious career this season. He has a team littered with McDonald’s All Americans, yet somehow Coach Cal has convinced them all to buy into playing team-oriented basketball on both ends of the court. Their depth and unselfishness are the key reasons why they are able to withstand practically anything their opponents throw at them.
Despite Kentucky’s immense depth and talent, the fact remains that they are not unbeatable. The Big Dance is one of the most unpredictable sporting events of the year, and all it takes is one team catching fire to end the Wildcats’ bid for perfection. With that, here is a look at the five teams with the best chance of beating Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
1. Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers may be the biggest threat to Kentucky’s pursuit of a perfect season. They are led by center Frank Kaminsky, who is a matchup problem for every team in the field, and forward Sam Dekker. Head coach Bo Ryan is one of the best in the business, and the Badgers are disciplined enough on both ends to make up for Kentucky’s superior athleticism. If Wisconsin does end up meeting Kentucky in the Big Dance, it will be in the Final Four, in a game that could be the Wildcats’ toughest test of the season.
2. Arizona Wildcats
When the Arizona is playing well, the Wildcats are extremely difficult to match up with. Unlike most teams in the field, Sean Miller’s team possesses enough raw athleticism to keep up with Kentucky, but depth could ultimately be an issue. Like Wisconsin, the only chance for Arizona to run into Kentucky is in the Final Four. While Arizona’s top six players are arguably as good as the top six for any team in the country, they cannot afford an off night from any of them if they are going to upset Calipari’s crew.
3. Virginia Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are going to be a thorn in the side of every one of their NCAA tournament opponents this year. Tony Bennett’s squad plays defense better than any other team in the country, has a roster full of experienced players, and rarely has bad offensive possessions. If Kentucky and Virginia meet in the Big Dance, it will be in the championship game. For the Cavaliers to have a chance at pulling off the upset, they will need to be efficient on offense, win the rebounding battle, and neutralize Kentucky’s athleticism.
4. Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils have four players with double-digit scoring averages, led by the most physically dominant player in the country, Jahlil Okafor, who averages 17.7 points per game. Coach K’s team will undoubtedly be missing Rasheed Sulaimon’s presence during the tournament but should be just fine with its current eight-man rotation.
In terms of NBA talent, Duke may be the best matchup for Kentucky in the Big Dance, but their lack of quality depth and tournament experience may be too much for them to overcome if they end up facing Kentucky in the championship game. With that being said, watching Okafor battle it out with Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein would be well worth the price of admission.
5. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Truth be told, Gonzaga would have to catch Kentucky on a poor shooting night to have a chance at ending the Wildcats’ perfect season. With that being said, the Bulldogs may be exactly the type of team that can shock the Wildcats. Mark Few’s team has size, a plethora of scoring options, and an experienced roster full of depth.
His top scorer, Kyle Wiltjer, is a transfer from Kentucky who knows what it takes to win a national championship. The Zags are nowhere near as athletic as Kentucky but could get around that by slowing down the game and rebounding well. It may be a bit of a long shot, but Gonzaga has the make-up of a team that could shock the Wildcats.