(1) Kentucky vs. (16) MVS/W. KY Preview
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(1) Kentucky Wildcats
This very well could be the year that Wildcats head coach John Calipari wins the national championship that has eluded him in his illustrious career up to this point. They were a DeAndre Liggens three-point shot away from going to the championship game last year and are arguably better this year. The Wildcats are the top seed overall in the tournament. Inside the paint they have Anthony Davis, the nation’s leading shot blocker and top NBA prospect. He’s surrounded by first-round talent in Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. The Wildcats lock down on the defensive end, limiting teams to 58 points a night on 38 percent shooting from the field, which leads the nation. Due to their youth, the biggest question about the Wildcats is how will they respond on the big stage and in the face of adversity? They have some experience with Jones, Lamb and senior Darius Miller, but the fact is that four of their top seven players will be making their tournament debuts. Losing the SEC tournament championship to Vanderbilt could have been the best thing to happen to them as it serves as a serious reality check before the tournament.
(16) Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils
Few teams in the country played as difficult as a schedule as the Delta Devils did prior to the start of conference play. They played some of the best early on so that they would be over prepared for Southwestern Athletic Conference play and the results speak for themselves. The Delta Devils lost just once during the regular season and won their first tournament championship since 2008. They’re coached by former Kentucky great Sean Woods, who is making his first tourney appearance as a head coach but knows all about March Madness from his time at Lexington. He has a senior heavy team; his entire starting five averages double figures. They play with his intensity on the defensive end, holding teams to 65 points a night on 41 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from the three-point line. They’ll often put on full court pressure, which is why the average eight steals. Going up against a high-major team will be a familiar task for the Delta Devils. If their top two scorers, Paul Crosby and Terrence Joyner are feeling it, they could be a very tough out.
(16) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
The Hilltoppers were a middle-of-the-pack team during the regular season in the Sun Belt, finishing under .500 at 7-9. They barely qualified for the conference tournament and were predicted to win a game in it at best. The Hilltoppers proved that they call this time of year March Madness for a reason, winning four straight in the conference tournament by an average of four points to take the championship and guaranteed spot in the big dance. Nobody would have ever dreamed that the Hilltoppers, who underwent a midseason coaching change when Ken McDonald was fired and Ray Harper was named the interim replacement, would still be alive, but they played their best when it mattered most. Three of their top four players, Derrick Gordon, George Fant and T.J. Price, are freshmen. While it’s highly unlikely that the Hilltoppers advance past the first round, their appearance in the tournament alone is a statement to the rest of their league that they should be feared moving forward. In a few years, this could be a team that’s capable of winning games in the big dance.
HOOPSWORLD’s pick: Kentucky. Mississippi Valley’s defense should be problematic for Western Kentucky and help them move on to face Kentucky. Against the Wildcats, though, they’re going up against an even better defensive team who will shut them down and advance.
Who do you think is going win? Chime in by leaving a comment below!