Handicapping Kentucky's chance for perfection

Kentucky has dominated on its way to an undefeated season (©GettyImages)

It may seem like the Wildcats have already accomplished a lot; in fact, they have.

But there is still more work to be done for Kentucky and its undefeated record to turn in one of the greatest seasons in college basketball history. And while these Comeback Cats are the undisputed favorites to win six more games, each of those matchups is bound to carry all the pressure of a David trying to topple Goliath.

So what's the likelihood of Kentucky finishing its season with a title trophy? Ask resident hoop geek Neil Paine with FiveThirtyEight.com, after the first round of last week's SEC tournament, and he would have told you about 37 percent. And that was before the Wildcats cruised through the semifinals and whooped Arkansas by 15 points in the final.

But that's just the numbers; Most college basketball fans follow their gut when making bracket picks. So don't be surprised if ESPN releases in a few days that some 99 percent of fans have chosen Kentucky to win it all in their March Madness brackets.

Regardless of Kentucky's season-long dominance and the odds in its favor, this squad will need to show its worth on the court.

Defense here to stay

Kentucky will have to continue relying on its defense, which has surprisingly carried it since the team's championship game loss last year against Connecticut.

John Calipari has put together his best defensive unit since arriving in 2009. The Wildcats rank third in points allowed per game (54) and second in blocks (6.9). The team on average scores more than 20 points than its opponents.

The return of junior Willie Cauley-Stein (9.2 points and 1.6 blocks per game) is partially responsibly for their success, but freshman Karl-Anthony Towns has made his case as the best forward in the game while averaging almost 10 points a game and 2.4 blocks. The 6-foot-11 athlete's interior presence has been a major asset to this year's undefeated run.

Experienced group

Perhaps the team's best asset has been its grizzled veterans - I'm talking about sophomore players here.

If there's one thing Calipari's teams have lacked come March Madness it's often been postseason experience. That's because his regular recruitment of one-and-done star athletes often leaves his team full of fawning freshmen year after year.

But the return of Andrew and Aaron Harrison, along with the aforementioned Cauley-Stein, gave Calipari a strange asset; a group of three starters to pass on their experience.

Last year's final four run was based on talent, but many forget that the Wildcats had an underwhelming 24-10 record in the regular season. It was only once March Madness started that Kentucky turned on its jets, defeating No. 1 seed Wichita State in the third round, then rifling through Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin in a series of nail biters.

With the added experience of playing close matchups in the one tournament that matters the most, it's hard not to imagine Kentucky as this year's most prepared playoff team.

Potential hiccups

Looking for weaknesses here may seem a bit nitpicky, but it's worth taking a look at where Kentucky has struggled this season.

Two early overtime wins against Ole Miss and Texas A&M could have easily swung the other way, and a two-point contest against LSU was as close as it could be. If it weren't for a Karl-Anthony Towns jump hook back in February, this historic run could be moot.

Back then, Calipari said, "I'm not worried about losing," after attaining a 24-0 record. One regular season loss would be well worth it if the experience helped them win a championship.

But Kentucky has stormed itself to an undefeated season, and now that March Madness is here, there is no room for error. Its region is chocked with tough teams, including ACC-winning Notre Dame as a third seed and Kansas as the second.

Notre Dame could pose a challenge with its impressive offense, but the Fighting Irish have defense issues and if anyone is opposed to stop an aerial attack it's Kentucky. Kansas has the tools to beat a team of Kentucky's caliber, but will likely be intimidated after losing by 32 points to the Wildcats way back in November.

Really, Kentucky's first challenge probably won't come until the Final Four, and that only if it faces an unscathed Villanova squad. When asked what team was the biggest threat to Kentucky, ESPN's Eamonn Brennan probably had it right with his two-word response:

"Divine intervention."

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