By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT - Even longtime Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has never seen a team like the Kentucky group that stormed undefeated through the 2014-2015 regular season.
With a roster of future pros and a record of 34-0, the Wildcats enter the NCAA tournament, which kicks off Thursday, as overwhelming favorites to win the championship. Since early in the season, Kentucky has steamrolled even the ranked teams it has played, including Kansas, Texas, North Carolina, Louisville and Arkansas.
Izzo, whose Spartans enter the tournament as a seven-seed after a relatively rocky season, did not label Kentucky as a sure bet to win it all. Still, he finds the Wildcats impressive.
"In '09 when we played North Carolina, I think most people were picking them, but not like this," Izzo said in a press conference Tuesday. "They weren't landslide picking them. And watching a little bit of Kentucky the other day, you can see why. They've learned to play together. They've gotten better as a team.
"But it is the NCAA tournament, and March brings some funny things, positively or negatively," Izzo added. "I just think that I've never seen a team this deep as Kentucky is, and really deep in experience for them because they've got that class that was there last year and has been through it, so it's not like they have guys that haven't been through some of it, and that helps too. So yeah, I've never seen anything like it."
The Spartans will not meet the Wildcats in the tournament unless both make it to the championship game, but several other Big Ten teams could run into Kentucky earlier. Nine-seed Purdue could play the Wildcats in the round of 32, and four-seed Maryland could meet Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
Clearly, the odds for most teams against Kentucky are not great, but Izzo believed both Purdue and Maryland might be able to give the Wildcats a hard time.
"The funny thing about Purdue and Maryland, both have two things I think that would give them a puncher's chance: size and depth," Izzo said. "I think you need size; I think you need depth. I love Wisconsin. I do worry about their depth as this tournament goes on. They played that well here. They don't get in foul trouble very often, but you get in the NCAA tournament, different officials, different this, that, you don't know. Definitely Maryland has a lot of depth, and Kentucky, they have the two real big guys, then they get a little smaller after that, but they've got some tough kids. [Purdue's] Rapheal Davis can cover a guy [who is] 6-8 no problem, so I think they both have those kind of ingredients.
"I think Purdue is the toughest of the two," Izzo continued. "I think Maryland might be the more talented of the two. Maryland's got a little more size on the perimeter, but they do have size inside, and they're both 10 players deep that they can rotate ... That would give them a chance."
Kentucky plays its first game of the tournament, against 16-seed Hampton, Thursday at 9:40 p.m.
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