Thursday, March 19, 2015

Don't Bet Against Kentucky Going 40-0

In 1973, Secretariat was the 1-to-10 favorite to win the Belmont Stakes. It had to be tempting to bet on just about any other horse in the race.

Kentucky isn't a 1-to-10 favorite to win the NCAA basketball tournament; the Wildcats' odds are 6-to-5 according to online gambling site Bovada. Then again, there are 64 teams in the field (no, I don't count the losers of the "First Four" contests) vs. only 5 horses in the '73 Belmont starting gate, so 6-to-5 is pretty overwhelming.

The team Bovada assigns the next-best odds to is Arizona, which wasn't even given a No. 1 seed. Those Wildcats face 15-to-2 odds. The other No. 1 seeds and the odds: Wisconsin, 17-to-2; Duke,  9-to-1; Villanova, 10-to-1.

Anyway, I used this introduction to talk about my search for the team capable of running down the Secretariat of college hoops teams. Is it even possible? Let's go region by region ...

In the WEST, I really like Wisconsin. When I say that, I don't mean I actually like Wisconsin; as a Marquette alum and diehard fan, I'm prohibited by law from liking our instate rivals. But I have a tough time hating this particular Wisconsin team: intelligent, athletic, disciplined, experienced, unflappable, well-coached.

Here's how the West will be won: Wisconsin over Coastal Carolina ... Oregon over Oklahoma State ... Wofford in the upset over Arkansas ... North Carolina over Harvard ... Mississippi takes down Xavier ... Baylor over Georgia State ... Ohio State beats VCU ... Arizona over Texas Southern. In the next round, Wisconsin over Oregon ... UNC ends Wofford's dream ... Baylor is too tough for Ole Miss ... Arizona over Ohio State. Wisconsin advances to the Elite Eight by beating UNC, and Arizona gets there by downing Baylor. And Wisconsin's balance and precision will produce a victory over Arizona and a second straight Final Four trip.

Let's end the suspense about Wisconsin's Final Four opponent right now: It will be Kentucky. The Wildcats will dominate the MIDWEST Region the same way they dominated college basketball all season.

Kentucky over Hampton ... Purdue over Cincinnati ... West Virginia over Buffalo ... Maryland over Valpo ... Butler over Texas ... Notre Dame over Northeastern ... Wichita State over Indiana ... Kansas over New Mexico State. In the next round, Kentucky pounds Purdue ... Maryland handles West Virginia ... Butler takes down ND ... and Wichita State stuns Kansas. Kentucky moves on by beating tough but overmatched Maryland while Butler beats Wichita State in the battle of underdogs. In the region final, Butler is game ... but Kentucky is Kentucky. Game over!

In the EAST, so many pundits have chosen Northern Iowa as their "surprise pick" that it's no surprise at all. So, naturally, I'm going to pick UNI to get upset by 12th-seeded Wyoming in its first game. Take that! And that's not my only surprise in the region. After opening with a win over LSU, 8th-seeded North Carolina State will make Villanova the first No. 1 seed to exit stage right. Also, Louisville over UC-Irvine ... Providence over Dayton ... Oklahoma over Albany ... Michigan State over Georgia and Virginia over Belmont. Joining NC State in the Sweet 16 will be ... Louisville over Wyoming ... Providence over Oklahoma ...and Virginia over Michigan State. NC State pulls off yet another upset, this time over Louisville, and Virginia handles Providence. Going to the Final Four, it's Virginia with a tough win over ACC foe NC State.

I see the SOUTH as wide open, and I'm predicting premature defeat for the top two seeds, Duke and Gonzaga. Early on, it's Duke over Robert Morris ... San Diego State over St. John's ... No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over Utah ... Georgetown survives a scare against Eastern Washington ... SMU over UCLA ... Iowa State over UAB ... Davidson takes down Iowa ... and Gonzaga over North Dakota State. Then, I think there will be four close games, with Duke downing San Diego State ... Stephen F. Austin surprising Georgetown ... Iowa State beating SMU in a great game ... and Gonzaga getting past Davidson. Duke will end Stephen F. Austin's hopes and Iowa State will beat Gonzaga. And then 3-seeded Iowa State will beat Duke to advance to the Final Four.

So our Final Four is set: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Virginia and Iowa State. 

Kentucky-Wisconsin is a rematch of last year's national semifinal, won 74-73 by a young Wildcats squad. Kentucky, not quite as young and even more talented, will prevail again in what should be another thriller.

In the other matchup, it's a great contrast of styles, as Iowa State likes to go-go-go and Virginia likes to milk the clock. Virginia, which fell to Michigan State by 2 points in the Round of 16 last season, will use its defense to reach the title game this time.

In the championship game, the Cavaliers will hang with Kentucky for awhile. The pace will favor Virginia and the Wildcats will get too impatient at times. As the game wears on, however, Kentucky's superior talent will take over. The Wildcats will win by 10 to complete their 40-0 season.

Like Secretariat -- who won the '73 Belmont Stakes by a resounding 31 lengths to sweep the Triple Crown -- Kentucky is just too damn good to bet against.

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