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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Better bet to win the title: Kentucky or the field?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones (Getty Images)

Ryan Greene and I go head-to-head over whether Kentucky or the field would be a better bet entering the Sweet 16. Here's my take on why the Wildcats are prohibitive favorites:

In a single-elimination tournament best-known for the annual upsets no one sees coming, suggesting the favorite is a better bet to win the title than the rest of the field requires one to completely ignore historical precedent.

So why then is it so difficult to envision anyone but Kentucky cutting down the nets in New Orleans on championship Monday?

Other teams appeared to be playing at near the same level as the Wildcats for most of the season, but the field of contenders has thinned in March.

[ Video: Friday's can't miss NCAA tournament storylines ]

Syracuse lost the defensive anchor of its vaunted two-three zone when it ruled center Fab Melo ineligible for the NCAA tournament. North Carolina lost the engine of its formidable transition offense when point guard Kendall Marshall fractured his wrist last Sunday vs. Creighton. And Duke and Missouri just lost, ousted by a pair of No. 15 seeds on the second day of the tournament.

Kentucky, on the other hand, is healthy, hungry and improving by the day.

Anthony Davis is a game-changing defensive big man whose offensive repertoire is blossoming. Darius Miller and Doron Lamb are more dependable shooters this season than any previous John Calipari team has had. Enigmatic forward Terrence Jones has played with more fire and more consistency of late. And if point guard Marquis Teague is the supposed weak link, then that 24-point, seven-assist performance he had against Iowa State has to be mighty scary for the naysayers.

What's more, Kentucky's path to the title game is favorable to say the least.

Sweet 16 opponent Indiana did beat the Wildcats in Bloomington on Christian Watford's iconic buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but the sting of that loss will ensure a motivated Kentucky team doesn't overlook the Hoosiers. Assuming Kentucky gets past that game, its next two opponents would come from a pool of these six teams: Baylor, Xavier, Michigan State, Louisville, Marquette and Florida.

Are those six quality teams? Certainly. Do they come anywhere close to matching the size and talent level of Kentucky? Only potential Elite Eight opponent Baylor does, but the mercurial Bears would have to play the game of their lives to topple the Wildcats.

[ Video: Video: Kentucky two steps from Final Four ]

You can point out Calipari's history of falling short of the title. You can question whether a freshman-heavy roster won't slip up along the way. You can argue the merits of a North Carolina, a Syracuse, a Kansas or an Ohio State.

But this is Kentucky's tournament to win or lose, and anything short of a championship would be a huge disappointment.

Ryan Greene argues Kentucky is a slight favorite, but the rest of the field is not far behind the Wildcats.

Remember on Selection Sunday when a hot topic was the tough draw that No. 1 overall seed Kentucky received?

Yes, the Wildcats were incredibly impressive in opening-weekend blowouts of Western Kentucky and a tough Iowa State squad.

It took a wave of hot shooting to finally put away the Cyclones on Saturday, and things don't get any easier for Kentucky moving forward into Atlanta.

I completely expect the Wildcats to come out like a house on fire on Friday night against Indiana, which is responsible for one of their two losses this season. The Kentucky players — and coach John Calipari — have already pointed out that ESPN's excessive use of Christian Watford's game-winning 3-pointer from that day in its marketing campaign for its mobile application serves as a consistent form of motivation coming in.

Will Kentucky knock Indiana down? Probably. But after that is where the field is littered with pitfalls for UK. Especially Sunday, should Baylor take care of Xavier in Atlanta's other regional semifinal. With the exception of North Carolina, which Kentucky barely squeaked by at home, the Wildcats have not faced a team this season with the wealth of big, athletic bodies in the paint that the Bears can throw at them.

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Also, with each of the other three No. 1 seeds still remaining, it feels almost impossible to call Kentucky the runaway favorite right now.

Yes, they're the favorite, but in my opinion, the gap between the nation's No. 1 team and the rest of the field isn't all that great at this point.

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