It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.
4. Kentucky (26-8, 13-5/SEC)–OK, so these Wildcats are nowhere near as dominant as they were last season (few teams ever have been). But there are some similarities between the 2016 ‘Cats and the 2011 and 2014 versions that gelled at just the right time and made runs to the Final Four. Kentucky certainly has the talent to make a long run through the Big Dance. This is one of the most talented teams in the nation, and it’s dangerous with a chip on its shoulder. Head coach John Calipari felt that his team deserved better than a 4-seed, and you know he’s preaching that to his guys.
The biggest reason to believe in Kentucky this year is 6-5 freshman guard Jamal Murray, who will be an excellent player once he gets to the NBA. Murray is a lights-out three point shooter, and he’s very difficult to guard on the perimeter. He leads the team in scoring at 20.2 points per game. Elder statesman Tyler Ulis (he’s a sophomore) has emerged as one of the best point guards in the country, averaging 16.8 ppg and 7.2 apg. (He’s like a Kentucky senior). Physical specimen Alex Poythress is hard to handle inside (10.3 ppg), and after him, the ‘Cats hit you with a wave of size–from 6-10 Marcus Lee to 6-11 Skal Labissiere (one of the nation’s top recruits), and seven-footer Isaac Humphries.
There isn’t a whole lot this team can’t do–but it’s clearly not a Final Four lock. Still, use caution when picking against the ‘Cats.
.478 FG percentage (25th)
.400 FG percentage defense (31st)
13. Stony Brook (26-6, 14-2/America East)– Steve Pikiell’s Seawolves finally broke through after years of heartbreak, coming back from a 14-point deficit in the second half of the America East title game to hold off Vermont and advance to their first NCAA Tournament in school history. Stony Brook had won the A-East regular season title five times but hadn’t reached the Big Dance until this season, and they’d likely still be standing on the metaphorical NCAA wall if it hadn’t been for Jameel Warney (19.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg), who turned into Moses Malone in the championship game.
Warney single-handedly won the Seawolves that game, scoring 43 POINTS ON 18-23 SHOOTING. Yeah, that deserves all caps. Dude was grabbing rebounds over three guys, knocking down one-handed putbacks, and going all Greg Jennings in Madden, putting his team on his back dude (Google it).
It’s not all Warney, as 6-0 guard Carson Puriefoy averages 15.1 points and 3 assists per game, and 6-7 forward Rayshaun McGrew and 6-4 guard Ahmad Walker both average in double figures in scoring. But if Stony Brook is going to pull this upset, he’s going to have to be Wilt Chamberlain-like.
PREDICTION: Tough draw for Stony Brook. This club could have made some noise if it had been given a different matchup (Iowa State? Texas A&M?), but Kentucky has too much size and too much talent for the Seawolves to handle. This one shouldn’t be close. As for the Wildcats, think hard before knocking them out on your bracket. Kentucky loves feeling like the underdog, and they’ve got that shot this year, as a 4-seed in a winnable region. We wouldn’t be stunned if this group beat North Carolina and advanced to the Final Four.