As Kentucky settles into the starting blocks for this season's NCAA Tournament, it's easy to imagine the 34-0 Wildcats looking at the rest of the field and asking, "OK, which one of you is going to finish second?"
Wildcats coach John Calipari already has won one national title with his one-and-done model. He finished second last season to Connecticut, which was a good thing in the sense that several of Calipari's players decided they weren't done after one season. Now he has a two-platoon model that is the equivalent of a Sherman tank.
The challenge is to comb through the 67 other teams to find a team capable of knocking off Kentucky. It's a fool's errand, but here goes our bracket breakdown:
Kentucky's roster includes three potential NBA lottery picks in 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns, 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein and 6-6 swingman Devin Booker. The Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, are back and should benefit from the experience of last year's title loss.
All the action in this regional is on the opposite side of the bracket, where second-seeded Kansas faces a third-round upset possibility against Missouri Valley champ Wichita State, led by point guard Fred VanVleet. The other third-round game could match Indiana neighbors Butler and Notre Dame. Jerian Grant led the Irish to the ACC Tournament title, and they are the best bet to reach the regional final against Kentucky, whose closest brushes with defeat came in overtime wins against Ole Miss and Texas A&M and a two-point win at LSU.
Thank goodness Big Ten champ Wisconsin didn't end up in the same bracket as Kentucky, as some predicted. The Badgers lost a one-point decision to Kentucky in the national semifinals a year ago after reaching the Final Four with an overtime victory over Arizona. Versatile 7-footer Frank Kaminsky leads a veteran cast as they try to retrace their steps.
North Carolina, which should end Ivy champ Harvard's two-year run of second-round wins, would be a formidable challenger to the Badgers in the regional semifinals. Arizona and Baylor are the best bet to meet in the other semifinal, but Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell should spark a second-round upset of VCU and pose a problem for Arizona.
Big East champ Villanova, which is on a 15-game winning streak, might be the next-best thing to Kentucky. But Nova faces a potential stumbling block against the North Carolina State-LSU winner. Missouri Valley Tournament champion Northern Iowa is a fashionable sleeper pick to reach the Final Four and should upset fourth-seeded Louisville in a defensive struggle to make the Sweet 16.
The class of the lower half of the bracket is ACC regular-season champ Virginia, which returns a seasoned team that features the No. 1 'D' in the country. Villanova has the firepower to produce a terrific regional final.
The presence of ninth-seeded St. John's adds local spice to this regional, but if the Red Storm beats San Diego State in the second round, it faces a third-round rematch against a powerful Duke team that beat them at the Garden in January. The Blue Devils should reach the regional final with relative ease.
In the lower half of the bracket, second-seeded Gonzaga has its best Final Four shot ever, starting in Seattle. But the Zags likely will run into Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State in the Sweet 16. The Cyclones, led by Georges Niang, are the class of the toughest conference in America.
FINAL FOUR PREDICTION
National semifinals: Kentucky over Wisconsin, and Villanova over Iowa State
National championship: Kentucky over Villanova.