Everyone who has followed college basketball this season has heard about Kentucky. Buzzwords like “undefeated” and “greatest ever” have been tossed around like the color blue in Rupp Arena. With players like Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, the Harrison twins, Trey Lyles, and Devin Booker, it’s hard to argue that UK’s current squad doesn’t rank amongst the best in college basketball history.
That being said, no team has won the national championship after starting the season undefeated since Bob Knight did it with Indiana in the 70s, but Kentucky is looking to buck that trend. However talented they are, I fully expect the Cats to lose before reaching the championship. I know this sounds crazy. I know this team has a starting lineup of lottery picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. I know Kentucky just doubled up West Virginia. But I am also very confident that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will take down the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight.
When filling out my bracket just a few short weeks ago, I immediately circled this matchup between the ACC champion Irish and SEC champion Kentucky. While Kentucky has established themselves as the best team in the nation, the ACC has established itself as the best conference, putting five teams in the Sweet Sixteen, with Notre Dame already punching its ticket to the Elite Eight. The Irish established themselves as the best team in the conference during the ACC tournament, beating the likes of Miami, Duke, and UNC to secure a conference championship. In order to win the championship, the Irish rallied behind their unquestioned leader, Jerian Grant.
Jerian Grant comes from the well known Grant family, which is slowly becoming royalty in the world of basketball. Grant’s uncle and father each had long careers in the NBA, as well as a brother who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. Needless to say, he has played in some big games before. Grant is 6’5”, matching up nicely with the size of Kentucky, and scored nearly 17 points per game this season along with seven assists, earning him first team All-American honors. He is a senior point guard with the ability to make an impact at the next level, a combination of skills that is usually very successful in the NCAA tournament.
Surrounding Grant is a cast of great outside shooters. Three players in the starting lineup for the Irish (besides Grant) shoot over 40 percent from long range. Complementing sharpshooters Pat Connaughton, Demterius Jackson, and Steve Vasturia is big man Zach Auguste, a post presence who takes advantage of Notre Dame’s spacing to score at the rim. With a lineup of players who can score from anywhere on the floor, Notre Dame will almost certainly fare better against the Wildcats than West Virginia did in the Elite Eight.
The key to Notre Dame’s success against Kentucky will be their ability to space the floor, thus neutralizing the rim protectors from Kentucky. The Irish knock down shots on offense and make it very difficult to score on defense with their length, making them the closest thing to a matchup nightmare for the Wildcats. With the leadership of Jerian Grant, I have full confidence in Notre Dame taking care of business against Kentucky. While UK has looked extremely talented so far, they have yet to face a team with the experience and game plan like Notre Dame, which will make the Irish a very difficult matchup in the Elite Eight.