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Kentucky Express

Which team outside of the Top 25 can make a March Run?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a current topic in the sport.

This week’s question: Which team currently outside the top 25 has the best chance to make a long run in the NCAA tournament?

Greg Antony’s answer:

I’m going with Kentucky. The Wildcats started slow last season, but really came on under Billy Gillispie in the second half of the season despite losing Patrick Patterson late. This season, they’re younger, but I think they’re better defensively. And with Jodie Meeks emerging as one of the best players in the nation, they are explosive offensively. Perry Stevenson anchors the defense, and getting Ramon Harris back in the rotation gives them some experience in the frontcourt. Two things have to happen for the Wildcats to really be dangerous. First, they have to cut down on their turnovers. They can extend their pressure defensively and force teams to try and play in the half court, where their quickness and athleticism can be more of a factor. Second, some of their younger players have to become more consistent because depth always is important in the tournament. This is a team that features two players capable of carrying them offensively. The ‘Cats may be back!

Jason King’s answer:
Kentucky may not be one of the best teams in the country, but the Wildcats have two of the nation’s best players – and maybe its best coach. Well on his way to SEC Coach of the Year honors for the second consecutive season, Billy Gillispie is someone opponents hope to stay away from in March. Along with being one of the best Xs and Os guys in college basketball, Gillispie’s teams always are disciplined. They play hard and they play smart. The favorite to win the SEC title, Kentucky should enter this season’s NCAA tournament high on momentum. The Wildcats may not be able match most of their opponents’ depth, but not many schools have two future first-round NBA picks in their starting lineup. Guard Jodie Meeks, who has eclipsed the 30-point barrier six times, is a national player of the year candidate. Forward Patrick Patterson is one of the most skilled big men in the country, and wing Perry Stevenson is no slouch. Still, the biggest difference-maker for Kentucky wears a suit and tie and stands on the sideline. With Gillispie, the Wildcats always have a chance.

Steve Megargee’s answer:
Conventional wisdom suggests you can’t go far in the NCAA tournament without an elite point guard, but it’s tough to ignore Kentucky’s dynamic duo of power forward Patrick Patterson and shooting guard Jodie Meeks. Kentucky’s 90-72 victory at Tennessee established the Wildcats as the class of the SEC this season, even though they haven’t cracked the national rankings. Since dropping their first two games of the season, against VMI and North Carolina, the Wildcats have lost just twice all season (at home to Miami and at Louisville). Kentucky enters the week with 11 wins in its past 12 games. And the one loss was a down-to-the-wire game on the road against a Louisville team playing as well as anyone in the nation. While the players on this roster have never advanced beyond the second round of the tournament, Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie reached the Sweet 16 two years ago in his final season at Texas A&M. Don’t be surprised if he’s back in the regional semifinals this season.

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