National analyst believes Cats will be in the hunt for NCAA title

Published 11:39 am Wednesday, January 3, 2024

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Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy is not predicting Kentucky will win the national championship. However, he’s not saying it could not happen, either.

“They are among the teams with a chance,” said DeCourcy, who also does work for the Big Ten Network and FoxSports. “A couple of things have to happen, and the first one is the least appreciated, but they have to be healthy. I don’t think there is a team in college basketball this year that can afford an injury to a primary player (and still win the national title).

“With the transfer portal balancing talent out across the country, you just can’t lose a player for a long stretch any more to an injury.”

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What else has to happen?

“They need to continue to grow defensively,” DeCourcy said. “The introduction of Aaron Bradshaw (after his return from a foot injury) has helped. Getting Ugonna (Onyenso) helps with having more fouls to give and lets them play more aggressively.”

DeCourcy does like UK’s offensive potential in March based on what he’s already seen.

“They have to be intelligent about the way they use their offensive components.They like to shoot from deep and that’s good but they cannot get overzealous with it. They have got to get the best shots possible whether it is a 2 at the rim or a fast break layup which I like and not just rely on the easier move to flare out and shoot a 3 on the break,” DeCourcy said.

“If they do all those things, then they are going to be one of the few teams with a legitimate chance to win the national championship.”

DeCourcy understands there will be games where shooters, no matter how good they are, will miss shots like Antonio Reeves did in last season’s NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas State.

“They had to keep Reeves in and hope he would catch fire. Now they don’t have to do that,” the Sporting News columnist said. “Now if a player has one of those days where the ball is not falling, he knows he has to do other things to help the team win. He has to get on the floor for loose balls, guard harder, pass. Guys are not just going to be hunting 3’s because of the talent the team has.

“That is a real asset for this team when if a shooter has a bad day that they don’t have to force their way through that. It is not important for a guy to force things to try and get going because of how many good offensive players they have.”

DeCourcy knows if you look at the history of teams who have won national championships and if a team is going to be excellent on offense or defense, it’s better to be better on offense.

“If you are good at one and elite at the other, you want it to be elite on offense,” DeCourcy said. “It is very rare any more that a team that is just okay on offense wins the national title. If you are not in the top 20 (in efficiency) in both you are probably not winning it but it is almost always a top 10 offensive team that wins. You can’t be bad relative to the elite teams offensively and win the title.”

DeCourcy said there have been national champions that were lacking in defensive efficiency during the season but got better by tournament time. DeCourcy knows Kentucky is not anywhere close to elite defensively now but thinks that will dramatically improve with Bradshaw and Onyenso now playing.

“They are going to get beat off the bounce at times because they are small in some positions, but they are also going to be destructive on offense because they are small, quick, alert, and fresh,” DeCourcy said.