Can anyone beat Kentucky? Where it could stumble

source: Getty Images
(Getty Images)

READ MOREAll of’s NCAA tournament coverage

INSTANT ANALYSISEast | West | South | Midwest

Like it or not, this NCAA tournament is going to almost entirely come down to one topic and one topic alone: Can anyone beat Kentucky?

That’s what happens when you have a team full of future lottery picks that will enter the NCAA tournament with a 34-0 record. It doesn’t matter if there are six other teams in the country that had a valid argument for being a No. 1 seed, or if those six teams — Wisconsin, Arizona, Duke, Villanova, Virginia and Gonzaga — are a cut above anyone else in the country.

That’s how good this Kentucky team is.

So let’s break it down round-by-round. Who can beat these Wildcats?

FILM SESSION: Who can Kentucky, and why

Round of 64: Hahahaha. Right. Moving on.

Round of 32: Cincinnati is physical enough to hang with Kentucky, but the way they play is basically like the JV version of Kentucky. You can’t out-Kentucky Kentucky. Purdue would be intriguing, as they have two seven-footers of their own, but I’m not sure they have the perimeter firepower to pull the upset.

Sweet 16: I don’t love any of these matchups. Maryland’s guards are really, really good, but I don’t think you can beat Kentucky relying on guards going 1-on-1; that’s what the Wildcats want you to do. West Virginia is dangerous to anyone because of the way they can press and force turnovers, but without a healthy Juwan Staten, can they even get that far? What if No. 12 Buffalo gets to the Sweet 16?

AP Photo

Elite 8: Who wants to see a rematch between Kentucky and Kansas? I’m sure the Jayhawk faithful would love a shot at redemption, and I think there’s a chance Kansas could pull that upset off. I know they’re without Cliff Alexander and Perry Ellis is banged up, but Kansas has a ton of shooters this season. Teams that can dial it up from deep are always a threat, which is why No. 3 seed Notre Dame may actually be the better sleeper pick to come out of the region. They have almost no chance of slowing down Kentucky in the paint or of keeping them off of the offensive glass, but Jerian Grant is a serious threat to be this year’s Shabazz Napier, and he’s surrounded by some flat out snipers.

Here’s another name for you: Texas. Yeah, I know, I know. But keep this in mind: The Longhorns have top ten talent, a massive front line and gave Kentucky a fight in Rupp Arena without their starting point guard.

Final Four: The biggest downside to this bracket, in my mind, is that the two best teams in the country not named Kentucky both ended up on the same side of the bracket, Wisconsin and Arizona. That’s also why I think that the Wildcats are the most susceptible to getting picked off in the Final Four.

As far as Wisconsin is concerned, they do the three things that you need to be able to do to beat Kentucky:

  • Avoid getting dominated in the paint
  • Force them to shoot over the top of the defense
  • Score early or late in the shot clock

Wisconsin’s front line isn’t as deep as Kentucky’s, but it is every bit as big. And those big bodies aren’t just big and strong, all three of them — Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes — can step out on the perimeter and score; no one inverts their offense as well as the Badgers.

Arizona is peaking as well. Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York have played some of the best basketball of their careers of late, and that’s incredibly important in this particular matchup. When Arizona struggles offensively, they end up relying far too much on T.J. McConnell in ball-screen actions, and if there is one thing that Kentucky is great at doing defensively, it’s taking away ball-screens. They have the size and athleticism up front to keep Kentucky off the glass, and they play a Pack-Line defense as well as anyone this side of Virginia.

North Carolina and Baylor, if they can get to the Final Four, would also have a puncher’s chance at pulling the upset.

National Title Game: The way I see it, there are four teams on the other side of the bracket that can beat Kentucky in the national title game — Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga and Villanova — but if I’m being honest, I don’t love any of the matchups.

Virginia’s got the best matchup, given their ability on the defensive glass and how well they run that Pack-Line defense, but they are not the same team without Justin Anderson completely healthy. He’s coming off of a broken finger and an appendectomy, and if there is anything we saw during the ACC tournament, it’s that he’s not 100 percent yet.

Duke clearly has the firepower offensively, but how will Jahlil Okafor deal with Kentucky’s size offensively? How will they be able to keep the Wildcats off the glass? With five front court players over 6-foot-10, will Kentucky simply resort to putting Okafor on the line as much as possible?

Gonzaga has the size up front to matchup with Kentucky, but I don’t love the personnel matchups. They need Kyle Wiltjer’s versatility offensively, but will Wiltjer be physical enough to deal with having to guard the likes of Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl Towns?

Villanova is underrated, there’s no question about that, but I just cannot see a team that has one rotation player over 6-foot-7 — and just one big man that can hit threes — beating this Kentucky team.

Here’s the thing to remember about Kentucky: As good as they have been this season, they have yet to play one of those other six teams. Their loaded non-conference schedule, the one that included showdowns with Kansas, Texas, Louisville and North Carolina, doesn’t quite look as impressive as it did back in October.

The Wildcats could very well end up going 40-0 this season. No one in their right mind would argue against that.

But if they do, here’s to hoping that they get challenged along the way.


Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

Getty Images

WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.