By LARRY VAUGHT
ESPN analysts Dick Vitale, Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams all have picked Kentucky to reach the Final Four, but only Williams picked UK to win the national title.
Vitale, Greenberg and studio host Rece Davis have all picked Duke to win the NCAA championship while analyst Jay Bilas, a former Duke player, picked North Carolina as his overall winner.
Kentucky is the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region where North Carolina is the No. 1 seed. The two could meet in the Elite Eight in Kansas City if both win three games.
“Kentucky, even though they lost to Tennessee in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, has played really well the last half of the season,” Bilas said. “Tyler Herro is a guy that is knocking down shots at a high rate and he is going to be a big difference maker in the NCAA Tournament for Kentucky. If you’re Kentucky you would rather play against North Carolina than Virginia.”
“This is a good draw for Kentucky,” Greenberg said. “Getting knocked out (of the SEC Tournament) isn’t the worst thing. You get a chance to take a step back, rest, refocus, No one creates a cause better than John Calipari. He can get his team locked in. On the top half, you’re talking about games they can win.”
Kentucky will open play in Jacksonville Thursday against Abilene Christian. If the Cats win as expected against the No. 15 seed, they will face the Seton Hall-Wofford winner on Saturday. Seton Hall beat the Cats in December at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“Seton Hall is playing at a high level right now. This a bad matchup for Wofford,” Greenberg said. “As good of a year that they have had, except for South Carolina, they really haven’t beaten anyone. Seton Hall is going to be the team that gets the upset and knocks Wofford out.”
“I actually disagree – Wofford can beat Seton Hall,” Williams said. “You have to stop Myles Powell. You have to stop him. He is the one guy that can really go. Wofford has some players defensively that can do that. And offensively, they have the pieces – they can make a lot of 3s. They can get hot. They could be one of the hottest teams in the tournament.”
Williams says the Midwest Region is “absolutely loaded” and had a warning about No. 3 seed Houston, a possible Sweet Sixteen matchup for Kentucky.
“This is a team that can beat anybody. They play hard and they play fast,” Williams said.
Greenberg and Greenberg both touted Utah State as a sleeper in the region.
“Utah State is a great passing team,” Greenberg said. “They run as good of offense as any team in the country. The freshman post player is ridiculous. He blocks out the sun. Utah State is a really great basketball team. I expect them to beat Washington.
“They may beat Washington, but they won’t beat North Carolina. UNC moves on to the second weekend,” Bilas said.
Kansas is the No. 4 seed and two wins would get the Jayhawks a chance to play in Kansas City in the Sweet Sixteen — probably against North Carolina. However, the ESPN analysts are not high on the Jayhawks.
“I don’t think Kansas is going to get by Auburn. I love the play of Auburn and their guard play. That Auburn-North Carolina game, if it happens, that pace is going to be out of control,” Williams said.
“Kansas may not get past Northeastern (in round one),” Bilas said.