MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WDRB) -- In the last five seasons this is how many college basketball teams have advanced to the NCAA Final Four without a formidable defense, one ranked among the 40 most efficient in America:



Has not happened.

The last 20 Final Four teams played Top 40 defense.

Kentucky and UCLA will play the second semifinal game in the South Regional Friday around 9:50 p.m. at FedEx Forum. The winner advances to a Sunday game in the Elite Eight.

In Las Vegas, Kentucky was listed as a one-point favorite Monday morning. By Monday night, the number had tilted to UCLA by one. It was listed as even Thursday afternoon.

Kentucky should win this game. Here is why:

The Wildcats defend like a team that is eager to defend. The Wildcats showed it on the final two possessions of their victory against Wichita State Sunday in Indianapolis when they blocked two shots in the final minute.

UCLA defends like a team that would be much, much happier beating you 95-88 than 75-68. The Bruins allowed 89, 96, 84 and 86 points in the four games they lost this season. Consider it a coincidence at your own risk.

The defense that John Calipari’s UK team ranks eighth nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency numbers. Only five NCAA Tournament teams have a better defensive number than the Wildcats.

Then there is UCLA.

The Bruins’ defense does not rank in the Top 40. It does not rank in the Top 75.

UCLA’s defense ranks 77th. Typically, the Bruins allow 100.2 points per 100 possessions, considerably worse than Kentucky’s 91.9 points.

The UCLA defense ranks last among the Sweet Sixteen teams. The last team to make the Sweet Sixteen with a defense that performed as poorly as the UCLA defense was VCU, which ranks 88th when the Rams shocked Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas while churning into the 2011 Final Four in Houston.

Does that mean UCLA cannot win two games here and play its way to Phoenix next week?


Even with its wobbly defense, coach Steve Alford’s team won 31 of 35 games this season. UCLA won four games against opponents that are playing in the Sweet Sixteen.

They beat Michigan. They beat Oregon. They beat Arizona.

And the Bruins beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena on the first Saturday in December. The scored was a UCLA score – 97-92.

UCLA has won 31 games because the Bruins play offense better than any team in your bracket, averaging better than 124 points per 100 possessions.

UCLA plays faster than any team in the tournament. But they’re not reckless with the ball. Their turnover percentage is excellent. Of the teams still competing for the championship, only Michigan is better.

Against Kent State in their tournament opener, the Bruins scored 97 points with only six turnovers.

Against Cincinnati in the second round, UCLA scored 79 points with only three turnovers.

For the record, UCLA scored 176 while making nine turnovers in its two NCAA wins. Kentucky hung 144 points on Northern Kentucky and Wichita State but threw the basketball away 19 times.

You can win playing defense the way UCLA plays it. But the record shows that you’re unlikely to win four games in this tournament while doing it.

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