Is 2015 March Madness merely the last formality in the Kentucky Wildcats’ quest for perfection? It seems that way to many after Kentucky rolled through the SEC Tournament to improve their record to 34-0. Of course, while the Wildcats have already established themselves as one of the greatest college basketball teams ever, there are plenty of really good teams sprinkled throughout the field. And one of these is no doubt another Wildcats squad – the Arizona Wildcats.
After grabbing the No. 2 seed in the West, Arizona has their work cut out if they’re to get by No. 1 seed Wisconsin. However, judging purely on future pro talent, there may be no school more capable of ruining Kentucky’s quest for perfection – a team they could potentially meet in the 2015 Final Four.
“They’re the one team that could take out Kentucky,’’ a veteran NBA scout told Forbes writer Mitch Lawrence. “They should have gotten the No. 1 seed in the West, not Wisconsin. They have the kind of team that can beat Kentucky.’’
This talented Arizona team is led by freshman Stanley Johnson, who should easily be a lottery pick next June, despite averaging just 14.1 PPG this year. “He’s a man-child,’’ the NBA scout said. “He’s 6-6 or 6-7, 245 pounds, and he’s built like a linebacker. But here’s the deal. He’s got a lot of skills. He can shoot it and he can handle the ball. He rebounds. If he comes out, he’s going to be a top lottery pick.”
Then there’s 6-7 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who has a 7-foot wingspan that creates nightmares for opponents on offense. Even top players in the Pac-10 have only averaged 12 PPG and shot 35% against the rangy Hollis-Jefferson, who’s also chipped in 10.8 PPG and 6.8 RPG.
6-9 junior forward Brandon Ashley is also key to Arizona’s chances of beating Kentucky, or anybody else. The big man is averaging 12.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG and almost one block. Veteran point guard T.J. McConnell, who averages 6.4 APG, will be directing these players through both his passing and leadership. Add in 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski and this is one very well-rounded team.
Of course, the problem with playing Kentucky is that they have insane depth and loads of talent, beginning with potential No. 1 overall NBA-Draft-pick Karl-Anthony Towns. Willie Cauley-Stein, whom some have projected to go in the top 10, is another player who creates huge matchup difficulties. There are plenty of other excellent players on John Calipari’s squad, but the problem is that with such a deep team, Calipari has the option of rotating players in like hockey substitutions.
Few teams can either prepare or match up with Kentucky, but Arizona at least has an opportunity to do the latter. Once again, they have the kind of range and length that can disrupt shots, even from a bunch of first-rounders like what KU boasts. And their coach, Sean Miller, has the experience to take his team deep in the tournament, even if it means going through Kentucky in the Final Four. “He’s a really good coach,’’ the NBA scout explained. “His kids respond to his coaching and he knows what he’s doing. He’s not getting out-coached by anybody.”