John Clay: All 16 NCAA teams capable, vulnerable, even Kentucky

jclay@herald-leader.comMarch 21, 2012 

John Calipari

CHET WHITE

College basketball's national press has all but pulled a muscle handing Kentucky the scissors in anticipation of John Calipari's team cutting down the nets late on the night of April 2.

CBS's Gary Parrish argued the only thing that could keep Kentucky from hanging that elusive eighth banner is Kentucky.

The New York Times' Pete Thamel, not exactly the Big Blue Nation's most popular journalist, wrote that it "would be surprising if Kentucky did not win it all."

ESPN's Myron Medcalf proclaimed that anything short of a national title for the Big Blue "equals failure."

Either these hoops experts are supremely confident Anthony Davis and crew will dominate the remains of the draw, or they are happy to give a leg up to the gorilla occupying Kentucky's back.

Either way, it's all classic chatter, and tournament history, at least over the past couple of years, shows that the chatter doesn't matter.

Oh sure, from 2007 through 2009, being a top seed meant a punched ticket to the Elite Eight. In those three tournaments, all 12 No. 1 seeds won their Sweet 16 matchups. Florida (2007), Kansas (2008) and North Carolina (2009) proceeded to sing One Shining Moment as they boogied on the mid-court platform.

That changed in 2010, however, when No. 1 seed Kansas was bounced in the second round. Fellow No. 1s Syracuse, Kentucky and Duke made it through to the regional semifinals, but there Syracuse splattered the wall against upstart Butler.

Last year brought more bracket havoc. Top seed Pittsburgh got punked in the second round. Duke and Ohio State saw their seasons end at the less-than-Sweet 16, the latter at the hands of Kentucky.

Kansas reached the regional finals, only to be run off the road to Houston by VCU's turbo-charged Cinderella carriage.

Now here we are again with all four No. 1 seeds safely through to the second week of dancing with the March Madness stars. Yet somehow Kentucky is the team that has earned not just the judge's high scores but the expectations.

That makes sense from the standpoint UK has camped at No. 1 in the polls for the past eight weeks. Davis is checking out blueprints for a bigger trophy case to house all his player of the year awards.

And — attention Cal's critics — Calipari is the only coach to have reached a regional semifinal each of the last five years.

Plus, fellow cruise ships have sprung noticeable leaks.

North Carolina has cornered the market on wrist injuries. Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall is iffy for Friday night after Monday morning surgery to place a screw in his right wrist. Michigan State is without talented freshman Branden Dawson. Syracuse is missing sophomore center and serious shot blocker Fab Melo.

Kentucky may be healthy (possible exception of Kyle Wiltjer's tailbone), wealthy (in talent) and wise (Final Four experience of Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb) but there are no guarantees.

What if in a repeat of its December demonstration, Indiana hits 60 percent of its three-pointers to make it a freaky Friday?

What if Baylor channels its scary athletic talent into a Sunday showcase in the South Regional finals?

What if the Cats suffer the same voodoo in New Orleans they endured at the SEC Tournament — being the best team that somehow doesn't play up to its best?

At this stage, said Calipari on Tuesday, any five can beat any other five.

"Come on now, this is going to be a war," said the coach. "There are 16 teams left, every one of them can play. Every one of them is inspired. Every one of them is playing out of desperation. Every team."

Everything else is just talk.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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