Notre Dame (32-5; 14-4) tries to upset dominant Kentucky (37-0; 18-0) in a Midwest region, Elite Eight matchup set to take place Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Kentucky is fresh off an absolute dispatching of West Virginia, 78-39.
The perfect Wildcats look like they are hitting their peak heading into the Elite Eight. Kentucky plays ferocious defense and the meager 39 points scored in the Sweet 16 by the Mountaineers is clear evidence. Coach John Calipari’s squad allows just 53.5 points per game (second in the NCAA). Featuring the intimidating post presence of Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wildcats block 6.9 shots per game (second in the NCAA).
"That's the best defensive team I think that I've ever coached against,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, a 30-year coaching veteran, in a news conference. “And when they're making shots, there's nobody going to beat them."
Kentucky is currently an astonishing 5/7 favorite to win the NCAA championship, bovada.lv wrote. Its talented frontcourt, paired with the Harrison twins (Andrew and Aaron) at guard along with freshman guard Devin Booker can absolutely overwhelm opponents. The Wildcats play a deep nine-man rotation that is unrelenting. The Wildcats score an average 74.9 points (29th in the NCAA) while no player averages 10 points per game. Notre Dame will have its hands full but will relish the underdog role.
"We are America's team tomorrow," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said in a news conference Friday. "And we love it, we certainly will take all that support. We've got a monumental challenge on our hands."
The Fighting Irish, who beat Wichita State 81-70 to advance past the Sweet 16, will likely have to rely on star guard Jerian Grant. The senior averages 16.8 points and 6.7 assists for the Notre Dame offense that scores 78.8 points per game (12th in the NCAA). Scoring from the perimeter might be the best option for Brey’s team, instead of challenging the dual seven-footers Towns and Cauley-Stein in the post. Notre Dame has been very good offensively, but struggles on the glass, which might cause problems against the Kentucky frontcourt. The Irish do shoot a stellar 51 percent (second in the NCAA) from the floor, which should help offset those struggles. Notre Dame will have to execute its game plan very well to upset a Wildcats team that looks like it is on a roll.
Brey was on the coaching staff of the 1991 Duke Blue Devils team that upset the 34-0 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels squad in the Final Four. The coach knows what it will take to beat the undefeated Wildcats, referencing the shocking ’91 win.
"We got off to a great start and then you believed," Brey said in a news conference. "And it's similar to tomorrow. You get off to a good start against Kentucky in here tomorrow night, OK, we've got a shot at this thing."
Start Time: 8:49 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: TBS
Live Stream: Watch online at March Madness Live
Odds: Kentucky is an 11.5-point favorite, according to bovada.lv.
Prediction: Notre Dame will be ready to play, but Kentucky’s frontcourt is simply too much to stop. The Wildcats move to 38-0 and into the Final Four.
Kentucky over Notre Dame 75-63