If you ask the average college basketball analyst to size up No. 1 Kentucky, odds are you’ll hear something along the following lines: The Wildcats are 36-0, they have a million McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster and they are going to make history and win the national title.
That’s fine. A college basketball analyst can think that – and hey, he or she may be right.
But what about the NBA guys? What do NBA scouts and analysts think?
ESPN writer Jordan Brenner had those same questions – so he found out the answers.
“Basically, I wanted to find out how to exploit (Kentucky),” Brenner explained on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “The NBA guys can sort of look at this a little more dispassionately – not through the blinder of their own roster.”
As it turns out, a lot of NBA folks like Kentucky, but very few are head-over-heels in love.
“Hardly any of them saw Kentucky as invincible,” Brenner said. “I think we’ve all been a little guilty in the college basketball world this year of making this team out to be so much better than everybody else.”
Brenner asked NBA personnel how they would exploit Kentucky.
“I think everyone started their strategic vision with something along the lines of getting in the Harrison (twins’) heads and (doing) things that make them contribute to losing,” Brenner said. “People had different ways of doing it, but the NBA does not like the Harrison twins.”
It will be up to No. 5 West Virginia (25-9) to fluster the Harrison twins – Aaron and Andrew – as well as the rest of the Wildcats in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. The Mountaineers’ press helped them to tournament wins over Buffalo and Maryland, but make no mistake: Kentucky represents their biggest test of the season.
That’s right. Not their biggest test of the tournament, but their biggest test of the season.
Does West Virginia have any chance whatsoever?
“Its funny,” Brenner said. “I actually brought up West Virginia to the NBA guys a lot because they were sort of looking like this really good underdog team that did all these things an underdog was supposed to do: offensive rebound, force turnovers, the sort of thing that gives you a high-variance game with a chance to beat somebody better. Nobody was saying that a regular team should press. That that’s not a way to play Kentucky normally. But they said, ‘Look, if you’re West Virginia, you do what you do.’ We saw what (Cincinnati forward) Octavius Ellis did to Kentucky last game, right?”
Ellis and the Bearcats played tough, physical defense against Kentucky and made the game tighter than many thought it would be. In the end, Kentucky won, 64-51, but the Wildcats were tested.
“I think West Virginia is a better, crazier version of (Cincinnati) in some ways,” Brenner said. “They’re sort of like close cousins. So I think if that could get under the skin of the Kentucky front court, I think dealing with that kind of pressure for 40 minutes – it’s not going to be an easy night for the Kentucky guards.”