Kentucky will win the NCAA tournament on Monday night for the simplest of reasons: It has the best players who are playing at their best.
Because of that, this Wildcat team is not just better than Kansas, it is arguably better than the greatest college teams of the last 20 years.
Against Louisville, a team that was supposed to give the ‘Cats fits defensively, Player of the Year Anthony Davis scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Darius Miller had 13 points and Doron Lamb scored 10.
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It was the first time in this tournament that Kentucky had three players in double digits. The rest of the games they’ve had four or five guys scoring 10 or more. The ‘Cats also shot an astonishing 57.1 percent from the floor against the Cardinals.
How do you stop a team like that?
Unfortunately, if you’re Kansas, you can’t.
Sure, there will be plenty of talk about the Jayhawks’ comeback over Ohio State, and how forward Thomas Robinson and guard Elijah Johnson took the team on their strong shoulders. But Kentucky has three guards — Lamb, Miller and Marquis Teague — who are better than Johnson. And while Robinson could certainly give Davis his money’s worth in a one-on-one game, who among the Jayhawks will stop Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones?
Jeff Withey and Kevin Young are decent rebounders, and they might stop one of Kentucky’s big men, but you can’t stop all three. If any of Kentucky’s starters gets a cold shooting hand, Kyle Wiltjer will come off the bench with the Wildcats’ purest shot.
That is how they win. They are a hydra: cut off one head and four others take its place. You might stop one superstar, maybe two, but you can’t stop them all, and you can’t stop them for 40 minutes.
“This is a selfless team,” coach John Calipari said. “We have had seven different guys lead the team in scoring this year. They don’t play for their numbers. They play for each other.”
When they play their best, the numbers are astonishing. The ‘Cats’ average margin of victory is 12.6 points in the tournament, and most of the games haven’t been as close as the final score indicated. They led Baylor by 20 and Indiana by 18 late in those games, and they could have beaten Iowa State as badly as they wanted.
The’‘Cats also beat Kansas by 10 (75-65) in the second game of the regular season way back in mid-November, a game where all five Kentucky starters scored in double digits at a time before the freshmen — Davis, Teague and Kidd-Gilchrist — knew their way around campus.
The Kentucky team that has breezed through this tournament is light years better than the one that notched an early W against the Jayhawks. Even Saturday’s eight-point win over Louisville wasn’t really that close. The Wildcats manhandled their in-state rival for all but seven minutes of the game. A 15-3 run gave Louisville some hope in the middle of the second half, but Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist crushed those dreams as they have for most of Kentucky’s opponents this season.
“We didn’t play our best (against Louisville)” Calipari said. “But we played good enough.”
They are likely to play good enough on Monday. There is really only one team that can beat Kentucky, and it isn’t Kansas. It’s Kentucky.
“I’m only worried about us,” Calipari said. “If we play well, we’ll take the result.”
If it plays well, the result will be what it’s been throughout this NCAA tournament: Kentucky by a dozen or more.