Top players in UK’s section in the first round of NCAA play


UK head coach John Calipari speaks to the media about Kentucky’s draw in the tournament during the Selection Show on Sunday, March 11, 2018 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky will play Davidson in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Boise, Idaho. Photo by Hunter Mitchell.

Braden Ramsey

After capturing its fourth straight SEC Tournament championship on Sunday, Kentucky received a 5-seed from the NCAA Selection Committee in the South Region.

In order to advance past the first weekend, the Cats will have to handle a pesky Davidson squad in the 5-12 matchup, then defeat the winner of the 4-13 game between Arizona and Buffalo. In a quadrant with three Wildcat teams, here’s the players who could be responsible for sending Kentucky packing:

Peyton Aldridge, Davidson

Davidson claimed an NCAA Tournament bid by defeating Rhode Island for the second time in nine days in the Atlantic 10 Tournament title game. Kentucky’s first-round opponent is led by Aldridge, an A-10 All-Conference First Team Selection.

The 6-8, 225 lb. senior forward led the team in points per game (21.5) and rebounds per game (7.8), helping them to a 21-11 overall record after the A-10 tournmaent. Couple these stats with sterling shooting numbers – 48.7 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from three-point range, and 84.8 percent from the free throw line – and he’s extremely difficult to come up with a game plan for.

Kellan Grady, Davidson

The 6-5 freshmen guard from Boston was second on the team in scoring at 18 points per game. The A-10 Freshman of the Year and All-Conference Second Teamer can score inside and out, having a field goal percentage of 50.8 and 37.7 percent from behind the arc.

Guard play is key come March, and Kentucky will have to keep this Wildcat in check to advance to a second-round contest.

DeAndre Ayton, Arizona

If Kentucky gets past Davidson, the Cats will likely have to face another band of Wildcats: Arizona. While Arizona (27-7, 14-4) had its struggles early in the season, those Wildcats enter the tournament having won five straight and eight of their last nine as they claimed the Pac-12 Regular Season and Conference titles. This streak has been due, in large part, to a player reminiscent of Shaquille O’Neal in his LSU days.

Ayton was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year, averaging a double-double with 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Standing at 7-1 and 250 lbs., Ayton records 1.9 blocks per game and has a field goal percentage of 61.6. He’s not a bad three-point shooter for his size either, hitting at a 36.4 percent clip.

The consensus No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Ayton is a true matchup nightmare for every team in the field of 68 and could end up dominating all aspects of the game.

Allonzo Trier, Arizona

Trier has dealt with multiple suspensions due to PED use in his first two seasons at Arizona, but when he is on the floor, he can hit from anywhere. Knocking down 51 percent of his shots – 39.1 percent of them from three – his shooting ability helps space the floor for Arizona’s offense, giving Ayton ample room to work with in the paint.

CJ Massinburg, Buffalo

Arizona’s first round opponent is the Buffalo Bulls, from the Mid-American Conference. The Regular-Season and Conference Champions went 26-8 on the year, and should they upset Arizona in the first round, would face Kentucky if the Cats get past Davidson.

The Bulls are led by Massinburg, a 6-3 junior guard from Dallas who leads them in points (16.9 per game) and rebounds (7.4 per game). He’s the key cog for Buffalo, shooting 46.9 percent overall and 39.3 percent on threes. If Buffalo is going to get through to the Sweet Sixteen, he’ll have to play almost perfectly against two of the hottest teams in college basketball coming into tournament play.