10 teams that could (but probably won’t) beat Kentucky in the NCAA tournament
Who can beat Kentucky?
Optimists say anybody can - it's the NCAA tournament. Realists say that maybe only Kentucky can itself. At 34-0, Kentucky is confident and complete -- and is going to be favored in every game it potentially will play over the next three weekends. Take a look at the 10 teams with the most realistic -- some much more than others -- shot at beating Kentucky if a matchup occurs in Cleveland or Indianapolis as the tournament proceeds.
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports
Maybe the best-looking No. 11 seed to ever run out of the tunnel for an NCAA tournament, the Longhorns are talented but mysterious. It's a long way through Butler and Notre Dame and then Kansas or Wichita State to even think about getting a second shot at Kentucky, but way back in early December Texas only lost to Kentucky by 12, 63-51, in Rupp Arena. Texas has the size to rebound with anybody, even Kentucky, and the athletes to turn those rebounds into transition scoring chances.
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY SportsBrendan Maloney
That Kansas is the No. 2 seed in the Midwest exemplifies just how wide the gap between Kentucky and much of the rest of the field is. Kentucky beat Kansas on a neutral floor in November, 72-40. Kansas was a much better team in January and February than it was then, and in a potential rematch would benefit from knowing exactly how the Kentucky avalanche started back in November. The Jayhawks have big-time talent but first have to survive potential matchups with Wichita State and Notre Dame to get another shot at Kentucky.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY SportsScott Sewell
Anybody who's going to beat Kentucky needs a point guard who will make sure his team maximizes possessions, poise to weather Kentucky's inevitable runs and multiple players who can make 3-pointers and force Kentucky to chase a little bit. With Kevin Pangos running the show and a team that loves to run and bomb, Gonzaga can check those boxes. Gonzaga is the top 3-point shooting team in the tournament at 41 percent for the season and in Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis has size inside to keep Kentucky from totally dominating the glass. Maybe Gonzaga would run itself out of gas in trying to run with (and past) Kentucky for 40 minutes, but the Zags can score with anyone.
James Snook-USA TODAY SportsJames Snook
Trying to score on Virginia is about as fun as getting a root canal, and if any team can slow Kentucky down and take advantage of Kentucky's poor shot selection, it's Virginia. The Cavaliers have upperclassmen in key roles, have the nation's best defense by the KenPom.com advanced stats model and rank 30th nationally in defensive rebounds, meaning they've done a good job of forcing opponents to take bad shots and using them to set up offense. Whether or not Virginia has enough offense is the biggest question. It's hard to imagine anyone forcing Kentucky into a 52-51 type of game - it's harder to imagine anyone but Virginia doing it.
6. Notre Dame
The Irish like a fast tempo -- their offense ranks No. 2 by the KenPom model -- and for the year they're shooting 51 percent and averaging more than 78 points per game. More importantly, Notre Dame has multiple players who can score and spreads the floor effectively enough to force opponents to chase. The Irish, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest, would presumably get enough good looks against Kentucky in a regional final matchup, and if Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton and Demetrius Jackson can make them, things could get interesting. Notre Dame is hot right now but has a difficult road to getting a shot at Goliath.
Getty ImagesLance King
5. Iowa State
The Cyclones get out and go, and in recent weeks they've shown they're never out of a game. Having a mature team, experienced leader and scorer like Georges Niang and multiple players who can hit from behind the 3-point line are mandatory for beating Kentucky, and after heartbreaking tournament exits the last two seasons Iowa State thinks it's playing well enough at the right time to make a deep run this year. Iowa State's offense ranks No. 7 by the KenPom formula, and the athletic, active Jameel McKay could keep Kentucky from dominating the glass.
Getty ImagesJamie Squire
On pure talent, Duke can beat anybody. The Blue Devils can throw it inside to Jahlil Okafor, can get out and run with Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones and get enough good shots to outscore anybody. Overall depth is a question, as is the ability to hit the glass and stay out of foul trouble should a matchup with Kentucky occur in the title game. Duke won the South's No. 1 seed after a season in the ACC with the likes of Virginia, Notre Dame, Louisville and North Carolina - the Blue Devils also beat Wisconsin on the road earlier in the year. Duke seems to have a favorable path to the title game, but getting there and beating Kentucky are different things.
Getty ImagesGrant Halverson
Senior point guard T.J. McConnell puts Arizona in good spots, ensures the Wildcats have quality possessions and is surrounded by plenty of talented players. Arizona's offense ranks No. 11 by the KenPom model and the defense ranks No. 3. More importantly, Arizona is rolling right now and has six players who average more than nine points per game. With Brandon Ashley, Stanley Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona has the athletes to win different kinds of games and the poise to win close ones. If it's a Wildcats-Wildcats matchup in the Final Four, Arizona won't be intimidated.3.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
The East region's No. 1 seed has the fourth-best KenPom offensive rating and hasn't lost since Jan. 19. Villanova makes nine 3-pointers per game on average and, despite averaging more than 76 points per game, can comfortably slow the game when necessary and allow KenPom's No. 13 defense to help put games away. The ingredients are here if they're anywhere: Ryan Arcidiacono at point guard controlling the tempo, enough inside presence to make Kentucky work and enough 3-point shooters to maximize possessions.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
This is almost the same Wisconsin team that did everything but finish Kentucky in last year's Final Four, but these Badgers are better -- older, stronger, more athletic and more players who can score from behind the 3-point line. Seven-footer Frank Kaminsky is a National Player of the Year candidate, 6'9 wing Sam Dekker is the kind of athlete Kentucky has all over and the Badgers play good defense and are good enough on the glass. The potential return of senior guard Traevon Jackson would give Wisconsin another experienced scorer and another part to the likely formula to beat Kentucky -- win in the halfcourt, keep your poise, make a bunch of 3-pointers and spread the wealth. If there's any team that can beat Kentucky, it's the one Bo Ryan is coaching.