Louisville — New York Daily News college basketball writer Dick Weiss (@NYDNDickWeiss on Twitter) picked Kentucky to win the national championship and is in Louisville to watch Kentucky open NCAA Tournament play against Western Kentucky and will also be back Saturday for showdown with Connecticut if both teams advance.
Weiss shared his thoughts on Kentucky and insights into a potential game with Connecticut, last year's national champion that beat UK?in the Final Four, during Wednesday's interview/open practice sessions.
Question: Why did you pick Kentucky to win the national championship?
Weiss: "I think they have six draft picks. I think the team that has the most talent is usually the team you are going to have to beat to get there. I will add this. I?don't think the NCAA selection committee gave them any help. They definitely had a sadistic sense of humor putting them against Connecticut potentially in the second round and then maybe Indiana and Duke as they move forward. I don't know that is the way the seeds will play out, but it you take a look at the hurdles every game could have its own little nemesis. Cal's personal nemesis in (UConn coach) Jim Calhoun and two teams cause Kentucky a lot of problems over the years in Indiana and Duke."
Question: But aren't those matchups just coincidence since the selection committee insists TV ratings don't impact pairings?
Weiss: "Yeah, right. Please give me a break.?I am not a big fan of the selection committee and the way they do things. A lot of this stuff is being done for ratings. I would like to tell you these people go into the room and are totally objective ..."
Question: What worries do you have about Kentucky going into NCAA play?
Weiss: "That Darius Miller will go off the rails if he feels to many negative vibes from his head coach. I think that this team needs to make shots. I?know they are better equipped to play against the zone defense, but you always worry about how they will react to one. I?don't think it will be as radical as it was two years ago (in a NCAA loss to West Virginia) because they have become very good in the half-court.
"I thought they were exhausted in the SEC?tourney trying to accomplish the unimaginable — trying to go unbeaten in both the SEC regular season and the tournament. It showed up in their play against Florida and then Vanderbilt."
Question: How dangerous is a potential Saturday matchup with Connecticut for Kentucky if both teams win Thursday?
Weiss: "It's dangerous because John (Calipari), and I don't know if he would admit this or not, has three coaches that have gotten into his head since he has started coaching. Jim Calhoun (of Connecticut), Bob Huggins (of West Virginia) and Bruce Pearl when he was at Tennessee and John was at Memphis. John is usually pretty good about blocking that stuff out and just coaching the game and that is what makes him such a good coach. He has brought in Bob Rotello, a motivational psychologist, and he works with him to get his mind clear. I spent a couple of days with him before the North Carolina game and I was over his house and Bob was there and when they finished I?just had the sense they were winning this game even with all these young players because his mind was right and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He needs to be that way Saturday because Jim can really affect him.
"That thing has been a bitter relationship every sense the Marcus Camby recruiting when John was at UMass and Jim was just getting things going at Connecticut. It is not going to go away. It was a battle for turf in New England and it is now a battle for national bragging rights as we saw last year in the national semifinals."
Weiss: "Drummond is a shot blocker but he forces them to play a given way and sometimes when he is in the game, two things happen. He takes away from (Alex) Oriakhi's space and makes him less of an effective player. And frankly you can't have him in the game the last three minutes on offense because he's Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal).?He cannot make a free throw. I don't think that is an issue with Anthony Davis."
Question: So you are not as high on UConn beating Kentucky if they play as many others are?
Weiss: "I will say this that Jim Calhoun is a great coach. His team responds to him a lot more than they did when (assistant) George Blaney had them (when Calhoun was out with back issues). This is a team that needed a loud voice because it had been very successful last year when it was very, very young and it is still fairly young when you look at the amount of sophomores on this team. They have two guys who could be lottery picks in Jeremy Lamb and Drummond. But they are still kids. There are not a lot of seniors and Kemba Walker is not walking through that door this year. I think if Kentucky plays their game, they should advance. I think it will be better for them playing UConn here than it would be in a huge warehouse which is what they had to do last year (in Houston) in the national semifinals when they did not shoot well at all from the field or foul line. I think last year's team had a chance to win it. They just came up cold at the wrong time. After they beat Ohio State and North Carolina in one region, which was easily the hardest region and had three teams good enough to be in the Final Four if the NCAA had done their due diligence with seedings, they could have won the national championship. Connecticut got a stone-cold Butler in the finals. Two years ago if Kentucky had not had West Virginia in the regional finals, they would have won. Their were two zone teams two years ago — West Virginia and Syracuse — that could have given Kentucky problems and they drew West Virginia. I felt they were 10 to 15 points better than the Duke team that won the national championship. It takes a lot of luck to win six games. And matchups mean everything. If they play Indiana, they have to guard the 3-point shot. They have to get their minds right. I don't know if the kids will be as impacted by the Calhoun factor, but last time I checked he has not lost many early round games in this tournament and they will be a load for Kentucky if Kentucky does not play well."