Kentucky won the SEC Tournament (again) with a convincing win over regular season co-champion Tennessee in the final. Their reward is a trip out to Boise to take on Davidson in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 in one of those traditionally upset heavy 5/12 matchups. Can the Wildcats continue their current form and buck that trend?
Here are the three keys to this one:
Use the doubters as fire
For a team as hot as Kentucky, the Wildcats are not getting a lot of love as the higher seed in this matchup. Kentucky is just a 5 or 6 point favorite over Davidson in Vegas and many of the pundits have Kentucky as being pushed close by – or even falling to – the other Wildcats. Spurring this on is the fact that this game is on the 5/12 seed line, a line where upsets are more common than they should be.
If any coach in the country is going to be able to turn this perceived lack of respect into a positive then it is John Calipari. He already showed exactly what he thought of the tournament selection in a couple of sarcasm-laden interviews and now it is time to turn that around to fire up his players. Expect Kentucky to come out hard as their coach whips them up into a controlled frenzy before the game.
Turn the Wildcats over
One of the main reasons that people like Davidson to beat Kentucky is because of their status as a team that doesn’t beat themselves. Davidson is a veteran-led club that isn’t particularly flashy but is one that will break you down over the course of 40 minutes with their strict adherence to fundamentals.
They rank first nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio, second nationally in fewest turnovers per game, third in free-throw percentage, and seventh in fewest fouls per game. Those are traits of a well-coached, well-disciplined team.
The Wildcats are a tournament savvy team, but they don’t do well when they get there. Take out the magical Steph Curry run of 2008 and head coach Bob McKillop is 0-7 in first round games. Kentucky will have to play smart and use their huge athleticism advantage to make that 0-8.
Do something well on offense
No Jarred Vanderbilt could cause a problem here for Kentucky.
Davidson wins this matchup if they shoot the lights out, something they are capable of doing. They are eighth out of all the tournament teams in effective field goal percentage, mainly because they are an incredibly efficient jump shooting team. Kentucky has the size and length on defense to disrupt their shooters more than the teams they faced in the A-10, but odds are that Davidson will score some points.
To counter that, Kentucky has to do at least one thing very well on offense. The ‘Cats could show up on Thursday and sink every shot they take in a an all-out scoring war. The team is more than capable of doing so and has on occasion this season. Alternatively, they could win by hitting the offensive glass hard – this is where they will miss Vanderbilt – and create a ton of second chance opportunities.
If Kentucky does one thing well offensively against Davidson it should be enough to see the good Wildcats through to the Round of 32.