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Pratt: NCAA Tournament outcome should field no surprises

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By Elliott Pratt

 Happy Holidays, sports fans!

We’re smack dab in the middle of March and it’s the most wonderful time of the year with the NCAA Tournament starting this week. For the first time in as long as I can remember, this may be the easiest bracket to complete when deciding who is going to win the national championship. 

Kentucky’s story is nothing short of incredible, and as a sports fan in general, I’m just like the millions of others who will have the Wildcats standing at 40-0 in their bracket.

I’m not a Kentucky fan and have no allegiances with any team in any tournament, but I’m hopeful and confident that Kentucky will win this tournament.

However, as March Madness is sure to promise us, it’ll be full of nail biter finishes, and Kentucky will not be exempt from a little cardiac check on its quest for perfection. Let’s go through the tournament and point out a few things to watch for in the tournament.

Kentucky’s run won’t be easy:

I’ve got the Wildcats cruising to the Sweet 16 winning each game by probably 15-20 points. But the next two games towards the Final Four won’t be easy. I have the Wildcats pitted against Maryland in the Sweet 16, a team that won eight straight before allowing Michigan State to come back and win in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.

This will be Kentucky’s first legitimate test in the tournament and I think they’ll win, but the Terrapins can shoot from outside and challenge Kentucky’s defense. Melo Trimble is shooting 40-percent from long range and Dez Wells has a 50 percent mark from behind the arc. It’ll be a challenge, but Kentucky should advance.

But I believe they’ll run into a Notre Dame team in the Elite 8 that is firing on all cylinders. The Fighting Irish are the ACC Tournament champions with big wins over Duke and North Carolina, including a double-digit win over Louisville two weeks ago.

Notre Dame has that spark that could keep the game tight with Kentucky down to the final four minutes. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, they’ll have to be better than Kentucky for those last few minutes.

Louisville’s time will be short:

I’m about to catch a lot of grief for this statement, but I just don’t see Louisville making much noise.

With the exception of beating Virginia at home to end the regular season, the Cardinals began to show weakness in double-digit losses to Notre Dame and North Carolina. And I didn’t have these thoughts of Louisville until I got to the second round of the bracket and had them matched with Northern Iowa to advance to the Sweet 16.

Then I thought about it. Louisville as a 4-seed and UNI as a 5-seed makes for an even matchup. UNI has shooters on a hot streak and Louisville is sputtering. If the Cardinals do indeed make it to the Sweet 16, then it means they’ll have hit their stride with a good chance of going further, but I don’t see it. Louisville exits the tournament early in my bracket.

Final Four:

Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, Virginia. No surprises when it gets to the nitty gritty of the Final Four. Wisconsin will get a rematch in the Final Four against the Wildcats, but the results will be the same. Duke and Virginia get a conference rematch, but the Blue Devils will win that one again, too.

National Championship:

The only team that can beat Kentucky is Kentucky.

They’re too deep, too talented and too focused to get to a championship setting and lose. It’s been the overarching theme all year with this team about being unselfish. They all know the NBA is in their very near future, but for now, it’s time to win a championship and go for history. Kentucky will be your 2015 undefeated NCAA Tournament champions.

 

Follow sports editor Elliott Pratt on twitter @Era_Pratt or email him at sports@oldhamera.com