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How No. 1 will fall: Kentucky

3/13/2012

Kentucky anchors a tough South region.

But the Wildcats are still my pick to win it all and end the argument that a crew made of one-and-done stars can’t win the national championship.

They attack on both ends. They have underrated depth with Darius Miller coming off the bench.

Anthony Davis is the national player of the year in my book and he’s one of best defenders in recent college basketball history.

They can score in every imaginable way. Teams don’t want to go inside with Davis waiting in the paint.

But I have two scenarios that could send the Wildcats home early: foul trouble for Davis or Marquis Teague turning the ball over multiple times.

I don’t know if this group is better than John Wall’s team. But I think this is John Calipari’s best opportunity to win a national title because of Davis. He’s a game-changing defender (4.6 blocks per game). He established a school record for blocks in a season ... in January. When the Wildcats lost to Indiana in December, Davis was in foul trouble.

If he picks up early fouls in the later rounds, Kentucky could lose. Davis is such a pivotal component on both ends of the floor for this team. The Wildcats are far more confident with him on the floor. Teams don’t want to attack. But what if Davis is not there?

They’re capable of playing solid defense without him, but it’s not the same.

I think the Wildcats can win the national title even if Davis struggles on offense. But his defense is the thing that makes them the favorites. They need Davis to be available.

Opponents will attack him and try to draw fouls. They’ve done it all season. That philosophy won’t change. You have to take your chances and attack the big man. The possible reward is early foul trouble for Davis and a disrupted Kentucky team.

I could also see Kentucky losing if Teague gets frazzled and can’t control the ball. He’s had 19 games with three or more turnovers this season.

Point guard is a crucial position, especially in the NCAA tournament. The teams with guys who can handle the rock as the spotlight gets brighter in the later rounds tend to fare well. Teague’s inconsistency has to be a concern for Wildcats fans. He’s going to face pressure every round.

He’s surrounded by so much talent that he really doesn’t have to be a playmaker as much as he has to play the role of offensive facilitator. But turnovers are magnified in the Big Dance. Will the freshman make a mistake that costs the Wildcats a shot at the national title?

But again, like North Carolina, it’s hard to find many reasons to doubt this team.

I just wonder if the Wildcats really grasp the moment and the opportunity. This is just a brief stop on the way to the NBA for Kentucky’s stars. They’re going to face teams that have hungry veterans who hope to close out their careers with the gold. Do the Wildcats have the same desire?

They’re dangerous. But they’ve also looked disinterested in stretches. So good, but they have to keep their foot on the gas for 40 minutes in the NCAA tournament.

A team anchored by freshmen hasn’t won a national title in the one-and-done era. I think Kentucky has the weapons to change that.

But the Wildcats are inexperienced. That, along with foul trouble for Davis and/or a bad outing for Teague, could lead to a finish that does not include a national title.