Before Saturday, most pundits had the Kentucky Wildcats out of the 2013 NCAA Tournament and after the thrilling win over the #11 Florida Gators, the tune seems to have changed … somewhat. Most major pundits have Kentucky in the tournament, but there is still work to be done. And this spot is not guaranteed. An early exit on Friday night could push Kentucky back to the ‘first four out” territory. We will look at that in a minute, but first, let’s look at Kentucky’s overall resume:
RPI (per CBS Sports) 50TH
BIG WINS: Florida (6th), Missouri (34th)
BAD LOSSES: Texas A&M (97th) Georgia (127th)
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: lost to #1 Duke by 7, lost to #3 Louisville by 3
STAT THAT CAN NOT BE IGNORED: #2 seed in SEC Tournament
WHERE WILL THEY BE SEEDED?
Jerry Palm over at CBS has Kentucky as a #12 seed in the EAST, which qualifies them for the infamous FIRST FOUR scenario on next Tuesday night. On paper, that may not be a bad thing, if Palms bracket was true to form. Palm has Kentucky facing LaSalle in the First Four game and then Oklahoma State in the 12 vs 5 matchup. If Kentucky can play like they did versus Florida, I like their chances in both of these games to advance to the field of 32. Marquette could be the next team to face for the Sweet 16 under Palm’s bracketology. I don’t like being in the First Four, but these are three winnable games.
As of this writing, Joe Lunardi over at ESPN had not updated his bracketology and the latest version as of March 8 had Kentucky in the “next Four Out”, and the sixth team out of the tournament. After Kentucky’s win, he did upgrade UK to the last four teams in and as the 65th team listed. It is interesting that LsSalle is also in the first four teams in, so from the look of things, UK and LaSalle could be a very viable “First Four matchup”. As of now. Andy Kastz has said that Kentucky was in the field, regardless of what happens in the SEC Tournament, but no mention of whether that means they avoid the “First Four”.
The common consensus right now is that Kentucky makes the tournament barely as a 12 seed. The Bracket Project looks at 76 different mock brackets and compiles them and also has UK as a 12th seed.
Of course, the real madness starts now. The SEC Tournament starts Wednesday in Nashville and Kentucky is the number two seed. They play on Friday at 7:30PM and will face the winner of Vanderbilt and Arkansas. As of now, Arkansas is ranked #80 and Vanderbilt is #127th. Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt in two close games and lost to Arkansas by 10 points. To be honest, I would rather see Kentucky face Arkansas as if they would be avenging an earlier loss plus defeating a fellow bubble team.
If Kentucky advances to the semifinals, they will have a very big matchup. They would face the winner of Ole Miss versus possibly Missouri or Texas A&M/Auburn. And a rematch with Florida could loom in the championship.
SCENARIOS and PREDICTION
If Kentucky wants to end any bubble talk or “First Four” projections, it is within their destiny. Two wins ends that drama and could even give Kentucky a consideration as a nine seed. Keep in mind, another win over Missouri would be huge. An Ole Miss win is equally big, but would not move them up as much. The downside of an eight or nine seed means that they are in a direct path with the number one seed in game two, so in all reality, a lower seed could be more beneficial. I think it would take almost every other bubble team flaming out in their tournament to warrant a #9, but don’t discount the impact of a second win over Missouri. I think that Kentucky’s fate will be decided before the Sunday championship game, so if they play Florida, the outcome will not matter that much.
If Kentucky wins on Friday, I think that also guarantees them a bid, but the first four may be an option. If Kentucky loses on Friday, they go back on the bubble and need some help from Florida and Missouri to make the SEC championship.
My prediction? I see Kentucky winning Friday and Saturday and making the field as a team with a first round bye. It would take everyone losing to get them to a #9 seed,and that necessarily could be the worst scenario. I see Kentucky making the field as a #10 seed, which will have them facing a #7 seed. The bad side of this is that a date with a #2 seed would be next, but to be honest, this is the year to be facing a #2 seed as they are a very inconsistent lot. The NCAA dream may be to pair Kentucky as a #10 seed in Kansas City or Dayton versus a #2 Louisville.
If Kentucky drops to a #11, they would face a #6 a seed in the first round and then a possible #3. Once again, that is not a bad thing. To be honest, I do not see a 21 win Kentucky team making the first four if they win at least one game in the SEC. A #12 seed would not be a death knell wither as they would face a #5 seed and then possibly a #4. IF this Kentucky team can play like they did versus Florida, they are a team that can knock off a #4 and a #5 seed and be a dark horse sweet 16 team. Anything is possible.