I take Kentucky basketball way too seriously.
Ostensibly, this series is supposed to act as a primer to fill you in on the basketball reasons behind why we think each team will earn a spot in the Final Four and ultimately win the National Championship. Kentucky has a legitimate chance to be that team this year, but that barely matters. Truthfully I would have picked Kentucky if they were a 16 seed in the play-in game or playing in Father Marcian.
This is less about why I picked Kentucky, and more about solidifying my confirmation bias.
Americans are expected to complete 70 million NCAA tournament brackets this year, risking on average $29 per bracket and contributing to the $10.4 billion that will be bet overall on March Madness, according to estimates released Monday by the American Gaming Association.
You can learn all you need to know about the NCAA Tournament and gambling here:
Just know that picking Kentucky is important, not just for my personal happiness, but it’ll get you money.
The model for every Calipari team is pretty consistent each year, a team of talented highly touted freshmen that have about 30 games to grow up in a hurry and meet the expectations of one of the most rabid fan bases in all of sports.
Sometimes it works perfectly (2012), sometimes not so much (2012). One thing for certain is that the storyline for March’s tournament run will be the same – has this group grown enough to legitimately contend.
This is another freshman-heavy class. For this team to win, Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo have to be great.
They will be.
Monk is an elite scorer who can create his own shot and makes them with a high degree of difficulty.
He went off for at least 25 points nine times this season and scored a season high 47 points in the game of the year on a neutral court against North Carolina. Monk is the kind of player that can go off and win a game or two in the tournament on his own.
Fox is an elite point guard. When you mention Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, Fox has to be in that conversation. As a freshman, he recorded the first triple double in UK basketball since Chris Mills did it in 1988. Think about the elite talent that has passed through the programme and Fox was the first to do it in nearly 20 years. Not Tayshaun Prince, not Rajan Rondo, not John Wall, not Eric Bledsoe, Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, MKG, or Tyler Ulis. Fox spent the earlier part of the season as a distributor but has been more aggressive on the offensive end, averaging 22 points per game in the SEC tournament. There’s some Westbrook in his game.
Adebayo has a lot on his Dwight Howard-esque shoulders (pause). When the usurper Marcus Lee bolted for UNLV, it left a hole in the front court that Adebayo had to fill on his own. Issac Humphries and Sacha Kileya-Jones aren’t ready yet and Derek Willis is a stretch four. Bam has to be the leading rebounder, shot blocker and be physical – all while staying out of foul trouble. Easy. Bam has developed a consistent jumper out to 17 feet and two post moves. That’s all I need.
As talented as the freshmen are, you can’t win without the upperclassmen. This is still Isiah Briscoe’s team and Derek Willis has to produce.
Coach Cal spoke to Kentucky.com about the team as a work in progress.
“We’re coming together,” Calipari said again before adding, “we’re still not where we want to be. But we’re coming together, and I’m pleased with all of them.”
When asked what separates Kentucky from being great, Calipari said, “More consistency. We’re not doing it for 40 (minutes). We’re doing it for 30.”
All of that considered, this is the toughest bracket of the four, but what people see as a gauntlet of elite teams, I see as the “Big Blue Revenge Tour.” I’m looking at you UCLA.
If I was able to convince you for a split second that I was being objective about this entire thing, mission accomplished. The real reason why I’m picking Kentucky is probably best explained in pictures anyway:
….like I said, I take this way too seriously.