But the Wildcats also do plenty to make their fans nervous, entering the tournament after an SEC final against Mississippi State that required a Cousins put-back with 0.1 seconds left in regulation to avoid defeat. Youth and a lack of depth will continue to concern Calipari. But Wall and Co. have played beyond their years all season, going 14-2 on the road and 8-1 in games decided by six or fewer points.
I would have gone with Cornell, a legit Cinderella (the Big Red lost by five at No. 1 Kansas early in the year), but Cornell got a bad first-round draw with Temple. The 11th-seeded Huskies are peaking at the right time (seven straight wins, the last six away from home) and boast two big-time players in forward
With all due respect to coach
The Atlantic 10 champion Owls (29-5) drew too low a seed for a team that went 7-3 against RPI top-50 opponents, and now they're stuck playing the best Ivy League team in years. Cornell, a terrific outside shooting team (they've made 43.4 percent of their three-pointers), will be going against one of the nation's stingiest perimeter defenses (opponents shoot just 28.1 percent from beyond the arc).
If you watched conference-tournament action last weekend, you surely caught a whole bunch of Butler highlights. His buzzer-beating three-point bank shot with a hand in his face beat Cincinnati in the quarterfinals, his 24 points were too much for Notre Dame in the semifinals and again, with the game on the line, he drove for the game-winning shot to beat Georgetown in the finals. Butler, a career 2,000-point scorer, has hit a remarkable six game-winners on the year.
He's the Mountain West's answer to
After missing nine games with a broken wrist, the 6-10 junior returned on Feb. 18, and by no coincidence, the Badgers won four of their last five. Leuer averaged 15.2 points during those games, but he's yet to fully reassert himself on the glass, averaging 5.4 boards. The Badgers don't boast a lot of other size and need him at his best.
That's the combined record of first-round opponents Texas and Wake Forest since Feb. 16. The 'Horns have gone 7-9 since starting the season 17-0 and briefly holding the No. 1 ranking, while the Deacons have dropped five of their last six to fall from 11th to 37th in the RPI ratings. Someone has to win.
There's a chance the Wildcats will run into a series of opponents (Temple or Wisconsin, Marquette or West Virginia) with the ability to control the tempo and frustrate Wall and his run-and-gun crew. But none of those teams have the size to counter Kentucky's bigs, not even the Mountaineers, a tempting Final Four pick after their Big East tournament run.