Kentucky basketball: March madness for Wildcats means win out to dance

Kentucky fans cheer during the 2019 SEC Tournament in Nashville.
Kentucky fans cheer during the 2019 SEC Tournament in Nashville. /

Kentucky basketball must win out to go dancing

As the calendar flip to March queue the anticipation and the CBS promo, but for Kentucky basketball, the script is plain and simple – win out.

Instead of March Madness, the Wildcats have suffered through Season Madness and have used up about all of their super-sized Tums.  This especially after letting a game of major implications slip by once again on Saturday against Florida falling 71-67.

Thus instead of a four-game winning streak heading into Tuesday’s game with Ole Miss, they are left scratching their heads how a Gator zone defense derailed the good vibes as the regular season comes to a close this week. Their remaining game is Saturday with South Carolina, a reschedule from earlier due to Covid.

By all accounts, Ole Miss was the scarier of the remaining games due to its full-court press and zone defense, not Florida. Well, that came a game early and Kentucky couldn’t handle it. Maybe that is good to see a zone, but it was a loss that brings big consequences.

John Calipari addressed not adding another game including the lost one with Texas A&M that would have padded its win total and an out-of-conference game is off the table.

"“You know, South Carolina, who we have to play Saturday, just won by 30. Mississippi is obviously playing really well. So we are going to have a tough go of it with what we have, but obviously we’ve got a road game and a home game and then we go to (the Southeastern Conference Tournament).”"

It is what it is at this point and Kentucky must play the hand is dealt. They control pretty much their own destiny heading into the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville that begins March 10.

In poker, you can fold and wait for the next hand, or in the case of UK it’s all in every game from here on out.

Kentucky (8-14, 7-8 SEC) sits about where it has been much of the year in eighth place 6.5 games behind league leader Alabama. Most likely they will finish one or two spots on either side which makes the tournament seeding and road to the championship complicated.

As of today, the standings are as follows:

Team                  Overall       Conf       Streak

Alabama            14-2           19-6         W1

Arkansas            19-5           11-4        W6

Florida                  14-6            9-5        W3

LSU                        14-8            9-6        L2

Tennessee           16-7             9-7        L1

Ole Miss               13-10          8-8        L1

Missouri               14-7             7-7        L1

Kentucky                 8-14          7-8        L1 

Mississippi St      13-12          7-9        L1

Georgia                  14-10        7-10       L1

Auburn                   12-13        6-10       W1

S. Carolina               6-12         4-10       W1

Texas A&M              8-7            2-6         W1

Vanderbilt                7-13         3-11       W1

Should all the stars align or a supernova strike the teams above them there is a remote, very remote galaxy far, far away from where they could jump as high as fourth or drop the next two games and you are looking more like a ninth seed?

South Carolina is and should be a winnable game so Tuesday night’s match-up with the Rebels is huge.

Kenpom has the Cats falling 63-62 but ESPN predictor only gives Kentucky a 37.1 percent shot to take down the Rebels.

Losing one or both of the games simply means Kentucky has the same bracket path as either a No. 8 or No. 9 seed. Either way, the likely opponent is Mississippi State in the Thursday morning game. One would be the eighth or ninth seed.

Fittingly these two met in the conference opener back on Jan. 2 with Kentucky clawing its way to a 78-73 double-overtime win that ended a six-game slide and began a three-game win streak. The Wildcats have not won more than three games straight all season and it will take four to be the SEC Champion.

Being in the top half of the bracket all the Wildcat games would the leadoff game each day in the Music City.

The winner earns a date with top-seeded Alabama in the quarterfinals on Friday morning. Kentucky has been beaten soundly in both meetings with the Tide. Even an upset of Bama would surely earn them a date with Florida in the semifinals.

However, if the remaining games this week finish with favorites winning and the Wildcats pulling off two wins then Kentucky would conceivably grab a No. 7 seed or perhaps a No. 6 seed.

Should Kentucky climb to a No. 7 they could avoid the Crimson Tide and fall to the bottom half of the bracket where No. 2 Arkansas sits.  That comes after meeting the No. 10 seed which would be Georgia. Auburn sits right behind them but isn’t eligible to participate.

The even better scenario is Kentucky find their way up to No. 6 seed where they would be all the way at the bottom of the bracket and playing the nightcap games.

In its opening game they would most likely draw No. 11 South Carolina on the heels of Sunday’s game. LSU has the bye at No. 3 and would take on this winner. The semifinals would then be Arkansas. There is the oft chance that Florida and LSU change places at No. 3 and No. 4.

If Kentucky could find themselves at the bottom half of the bracket they become the dark-horse for teams to fear.

This would be much, much more favorable as Kentucky fell to both the Bulldogs (63-62) and Razorbacks (81-80) each by just a single point. LSU would be waiting in the semifinals and Kentucky easily handled them 82-69.

Running the scenario on MRed’s SEC MBB Tournament Tiebreaker tool you can see a lot of possibilities with Kentucky splitting the final two games and the favorites winning as well.

Never count UK out and Calipari knows that Kentucky could make a run given the Wildcats’ success having won 31 tournament titles. Their record in the tournament stands at 134-26. They fell to Tennesse 82-79 in 2019 after 13 straight tournament wins including the 2018 title.

Stay tuned as the SEC turns this week and hope the Cats can pull out both games and put themselves in the best conceivable spot to keep playing.