Wally Szczerbiak: ‘Kentucky Is The Favorite’

On November 18, 2014 in just their third game of the season Kentucky embarrassed then-No. 5 Kansas in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, winning 72-40. The Wildcats led 38-28 at halftime and limited the Jayhawks to just 12 points in the second half.

Wow.

Ever since then, it’s been more of the same. No. 1 Kentucky is 27-0, 14-0 in the SEC and ranks second in America in both scoring defense (52.6 points allowed per game) and blocks (7.0 per game).

A couple of games have gone to overtime, and a couple of games were decided by single digits. For the most part, though, it’s been Wildcat domination for the last four months.

Can Kentucky become the first team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to go undefeated and win the national championship?

“Yes, this team is impressive,” CBS Sports Network college basketball analyst Wally Szczerbiak said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Are they as good as the team from a couple years ago? I would say probably not. They’re probably a little bit deeper, though. This team comes at you in waves, and they’re 10 deep and they have like four or five 7-footers.”

Seven Wildcats – Devin Booker, Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson and Trey Lyles – are averaging between 7.5 and 11.0 points per game. No one is playing even 26 minutes per game.

Kentucky is balanced, and Kentucky is deep.

Everyone else – No. 2 Virginia (25-1, 13-1), No. 3 Gonzaga (28-1, 16-0), No. 4 Duke (24-3, 11-3), No. 5 Wisconsin (25-2, 13-1), not to mention the rest of college basketball – would be decided underdogs against the Wildcats.

“I just think the overall landscape in college basketball isn’t quite as strong,” Szczerbiak said. “But this team has the ability to go all the way.”

The Wildcats have beaten three top-six teams this season and have had only a handful of close calls. They won back-to-back overtime games in January – 89-86 against Ole Miss and 70-64 at Texas A&M – before winning six of their next seven by double digits.

Kentucky almost lost at LSU on Feb. 10, but made plays late to seal a 71-69 win. The Wildcats have since won three games – against South Carolina, at Tennessee and against Auburn – by an average of 29 points.

“They’ve been tested in road games, they’ve been tested in tight games and they’ve always come through,” Szczerbiak said. “So there’s nothing to make me think they won’t go all the way and win it. They are my favorites.”

As we’ve all learned, however, it’s called March Madness for a reason. These are not best-of-seven series; these are one-and-done match-ups.

“In a one-and-done scenario in the NCAA Tournament, if you have an off night, you’re done,” Szczerbiak said. “So anything can happen, and that’s the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. It just makes it a lot of fun.”

Kentucky plays at Mississippi State (12-15, 5-9) this Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

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