Kentucky Is ‘Prohibitive Favorite’ for NCAA Title, Packer Says

The University of Kentucky is the “prohibitive favorite” to win this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship, while the college game is being hurt by players who leave for the pros after one year, former CBS Sports analyst Billy Packer said.

“There are so many different things that they can do on the court, both offensively and defensively, that gives them an excellent chance to win this,” Packer said of the Kentucky Wildcats on “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television.

Kentucky plays the University of Louisville tonight in New Orleans, with Ohio State University and the University of Kansas playing after that. The championship game is scheduled for April 2.

Packer, 72, said “it’s about as good a Final Four as you could possibly put together,” in terms of the teams’ histories and their coaches.

The quality of play is another thing, Packer said. “The talent level of teams that play in intercollegiate basketball now is way off of what it used to be,” he said. “The mindset of these kids is that college is a pass-through.”

While some players leave college because of money, others depart because they’re told at an early age that they’re going to be stars, Packer said. He cited Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, as an example. Rivers, after one year at Duke University, declared he would enter the National Basketball Association draft.

‘Is He Ready’

“Is he ready to be an NBA player that can help a team to the playoffs by next year? The answer to that is no,” Packer said. Rivers first needed to prove he could lead his college team to a conference championship “to be a productive NBA player of impact.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the issue of college players leaving after one year was overblown, cautioning against blowing “the one-and-done out of proportion” and suggesting that it’s “somehow undermining all of academics and the NCAA,” according a story in USA Today.

Packer said the impact is felt on young men who are told they are going to be professional players “only to fall short, but in many cases when it’s too late,” and on the college game itself.

Players like Tim Duncan, who spent four years at Wake Forest University before becoming an NBA star, are becoming the exception, Packer said.

Because of kids leaving school early, about 100 players, including 40 of NBA caliber, could still be playing in college, he said. They could be “completely changing the landscape of the quality of the upper-echelon teams” and improving their ability to play well in the NBA, “having shown what they can really do” during four years of college, Packer said.

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