Busting Brackets

2015 NCAA Tournament Midwest Preview: Kentucky vs. Hampton


Mar 15, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats players celebrate after a win in the SEC Conference Championship game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bridgestone Arena. Kentucky won 78-63. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky enters the 2015 NCAA tournament as the prohibitive favorites to win it all, but teams will be lining up to prevent them from having their “One Shining Moment” coronation. The last of the Thursday games in the Midwest region, here’s a look at the Wildcats’ first-round matchup.

Thursday, March 19; 9:40 p.m. – No. 1 Kentucky (34-0) vs. No. 16 Hampton (17-17)


Mar 15, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Aaron Harrison (2) shakes hands with forward Karl-Anthony Towns (12) during the second half of the SEC Conference championship game at Bridgestone Arena. Kentucky Wildcats defeated Arkansas Razorbacks 78-63. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

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Strengths: Where do we begin? Head coach John Calipari has compiled a team of nine McDonald’s All-Americans, all of whom pose a unique threat and helped the team run the table in the SEC.

Depth is the biggest positive for the Wildcats, as the team was able to continue their strong season without missing a beat even after one of their All-Americans, junior forward Alex Poythress, went down with a season-ending knee injury. No player averages over 26 minutes per game, which is absolutely astounding.

Their post is anchored by two of the best interior defenders in college basketball with 7-foot junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein and 6’11” freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns. Both projected lottery picks in next year’s NBA draft who can score, rebound and block shots, their presence makes it tough for any opponent to get open looks in the paint.

The guard play is anchored by sophomore twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison, the former of which has some big March moments already firmly under his belts. Aaron Harrison leads the team in scoring, averaging 11.3 points per game.

He is closely followed by freshman guard Devin Booker at 10.5 PPG. Fellow freshmen contributors in guard Tyler Ulis and forward Trey Lyles provide big contributions off the bench, as does sophomore center Dakari Johnson. Kentucky is tops in the nation in defensive efficiency (85.1) and seventh in offensive efficiency (118.6).

Weaknesses: Uhhhhh…none? This is an incredibly efficient Wildcat team that knows how to beat anyone it plays. Their post defense makes it near impossible to consistently score inside. The teams that have come closest to beating them have had hot-shooting games from deep, but Kentucky seems to have learned to close out on those shooters to prevent them from taking advantage of what might be their only true weakness.


Mar 17, 2015; Dayton, OH, USA; Hampton Pirates guard Reginald Johnson (34) and forward Emmanuel Okoroba (5) react after the game against the Manhattan Jaspers in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at UD Arena. Hampton defeated Manhattan 74-64. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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  • Strengths: The Pirates finished the season 6th in the MEAC before winning the tournament and taking out Manhattan in the First Four to earn the right to play Kentucky. Senior guard Quinton Chievous posted a double-double against the Jaspers with 15 points and 13 rebounds, but left the game early with an ankle injury. His health will be important if Hampton even hopes to keep it close.

    Junior guard Dwight Meikle leads the team in points (13.0 PPG) and rebounds (7.5 RPG) and has been great defensively for the Pirates. Hampton’s defense has been a strong point for them in the MEAC, and they get to the free throw line on 41.2 percent of their offensive possessions. Junior guard Brian Darden (.356 from deep) is the team’s best 3-point threat, and will need to have a huge game if Hampton wants to pull an upset.

    Weaknesses: This Pirates team may have held their own in the MEAC, but they haven’t faced anything close to what Kentucky will throw at them. Head coach Edward Joyner‘s squad was solid at rebounding in the regular season, but his tallest players who get regular minutes are junior forward Jervon Pressley and senior forward Emmanuel Okoroba, both at 6’8″.

    They will be sorely outmatched by the multitude of 7-footers that Calipari will throw onto the court in rotating intervals. The team also shoots a collective .292 from beyond the arc, an abysmal number for any team, especially one looking for an upset win.

    Kentucky Will Win If: They don’t play the game blindfolded. Simple as that.

    Hampton Will Win If: Jesus answers the phone call prayer that Coach Joyner left for him after they beat Manhattan. Hampton would need a near-perfect shooting day combined with lights-out defense to even compete.

    Prediction: Kentucky. A Hampton win here would quite possibly be the biggest upset in tournament history.