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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kentucky Picked to Win NCAA Title

NEW YORK -- People are still asking if anyone can beat the Kentucky Wildcats even though two of the other three teams in the NCAA basketball tournament's Final Four already have.


"Kentucky has the revenge factor," said John Calipari, whose Massachusetts Minutemen will play Rick Pitino's Kentucky Wildcats in the marquee semifinal Saturday that some are calling the true national championship game.


Massachusetts beat the Wildcats by 10 points on a neutral court early in the season.


And red hot Mississippi State beat them by 11 points in the Southeastern Conference title game earlier this month. The Bulldogs could face Kentucky again in Monday night's final if they get by Syracuse in Saturday's other semifinal.


Kentucky (32-2) is the oddsmakers' clear favorite over UMass (35-1), even though the Minutemen finished the season top-ranked in the country.


Kentucky has outscored its tournament opponents by an average of more than 28 points a game.


Massachusetts star center Marcus Camby, the national college player of the year, dominated the 92-82 win over Kentucky, but the defeat sparked some key improvements for the Wildcats.


After the loss, Pitino moved talented Tony Delk from point guard to his more comfortable role of shooting guard, and at a team meeting got his players to agree to sacrifice individual goals -- and individual stardom -- to focus on winning.


Camby had 32 points, nine rebounds and five blocks against Kentucky in November, but the Wildcats have learned how to shut down a big man. In their regional final, they allowed Wake Forest's Tim Duncan only seven shots.


In the backcourt, UMass features Puerto Rican duo Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso. Padilla is the court general and Travieso the three-point specialist. Both are good defenders and cool under pressure.


Kentucky and Massachusetts were regional top seeds, while Syracuse (28-8) was just a fourth seed and Mississippi State (25-7) a fifth.


"We kind of snuck in," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim of his Orangemen. But he says the Bulldogs belong: "Three of the top five teams going into the NCAA tournament were Kentucky, Cincinnati and Connecticut. Mississippi State has not only beaten them, but beaten them easily."


Mississippi State is peaking at the right time. "We started playing well at the end of the season," coach Richard Williams said.


One reason is forward Dontae Jones, who had 28 points and 11 rebounds in the SEC championship win over Kentucky and 23 and 13 against Cincinnati in the NCAA regional final.


Another key development was for point guard Marcus Bullard to improve his decision-making with the ball.


Lazarus Sims is the Syracuse point guard. He keyed the Orange comeback from a nine-point deficit in its overtime win over Georgia in the regionals.