Kentucky is the clear favorite to win the 2015 NCAA Tournament, given nearly even odds to win the national championship. The Wildcats need six wins to claim the title, but no team has beaten them in 34 tries, and it will be difficult for anyone to do so during March Madness.
Led by future NBA stars, it’s easy to see why Kentucky is such a heavy favorite to win the Midwest region, but they aren’t unbeatable. They’ve had their share of close calls, needing overtime to beat Ole Miss on Jan. 6, and almost losing four days later in a double overtime victory over Texas A&M. The Rebels were one of the last four teams to make the field of 68, and the Aggies have been relegated to playing in the NIT.
There’s a good chance Kentucky will breeze through the first weekend of the tournament, but there are a few teams that can give them serious trouble in the later rounds.
The Blue Devils are one of the few teams in college basketball that have a chance to keep pace with Kentucky. They are fourth in the nation, scoring 80.6 points per game. It will be difficult for any team to slow down the Wildcats, but Duke can be competitive, even if the contest is high-scoring.
Duke is a well-rounded team with four players that are averaging at least 11.6 points per game, and Jahlil Okafor gives them a weapon that no team has, including Kentucky. Okafor has been more dominant on the offensive end than any player in the sport, averaging 17.7 points per game on 66.9 percent field-goal shooting. The potential No.1 pick in the NBA Draft could lead Duke past any opponent if he’s playing his best.
Okafor doesn’t need to have the best game of his career in order for Duke to pull off the upset. He’s surrounded by good shooters, playing for a team that makes 38.6 percent of their three-pointers. A hot-shooting night for the Blue Devils could spell the end of Kentucky’s run at history.
Duke might have the best chance at beating Kentucky, but it will be difficult for the Blue Devils to reach that point. They can only play Kentucky if the two teams square off in the National Championship. Arizona, though, could have a strong chance to meet Kentucky in the Final Four if they make advance beyond the Elite Eight.
Big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns present matchup problems for most teams, but Arizona is one of the few potential opponents that can match Kentucky’s size. The No.2 seed in the West has two seven-footers in Kaleb Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic that give them a chance to be competitive down low.
Arizona is led by three forwards, giving them one of the most balanced rosters in the tournament. Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis–Jefferson can all fill up the stat sheet, averaging at least 10.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Because Arizona doesn’t rely too heavily on just one player, they won’t need a standout individual performance to pull off an upset.
The Badgers have been as consistent as any team, besides Kentucky. Of their three losses, two came against opponents ranked in the top 15. Their other defeat came against unranked Rutgers when the team was without Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky has gone toe-to-toe with Okafor as the best nation’s best player this year, and he could give Wisconsin a chance to beat Kentucky in the Final Four.
Wisconsin has beaten several quality teams, getting 12 wins against schools that have been selected to the field of 68. Bo Ryan's squad also has good size, in addition to the seven-footer Kaminsky, who’s averaging 18.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Sam Dekker stands at 6’9, ranking second on the team with 13.0 points per contest. Nigel Hayes’ 12.4 points per game are third on the team, and he’s second with 6.4 rebounds per game.
The Badgers may also be hungry for revenge. Wisconsin came within one point of defeating Kentucky in the Final 4 in 2014. There are several returning players who probably haven't forgotten the feeling of missing out on playing for a title.