Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats earn No. 2 seed and smooth road to NOLA

Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe, guard Sahvir Wheeler (Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe, guard Sahvir Wheeler (Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports) /

Let March Madness begin. The Kentucky basketball team will be the No, 2 seed in the East Region and open against St. Peter’s, and at first glance, the Wildcats seem to have a clear patch to New Orleans and the final four.

Not surprising UK ended up in the same region as Baylor and earned the No. 1 seed with the two schools battling for who would be last on the one line and first on the two-line. Had Kentucky beaten Tennessee on Saturday more than likely the teams would have just reversed seeds but remained in the same region?

What’s impressive is the fact Kentucky’s selection into the tournament extended its national record for most NCAA Tournament appearances to 59.

Kentucky basketball will open with St. Peter’s in the NCAA East Region

The road to New Orleans begins Thursday in Indianapolis where the Cats (26-7) will take on the No. 15 seeded Saint Peter’s (19-11).

Kentucky is 48-10 in NCAA Tournament openers and has won 25 of its last 26 opening-round games. John Calipari is 9-0 in openers while at Kentucky. In the NCAA tournament overall, he is 31-8 and 7-1 in the Sweet 16.

Unlike Kentucky showing up to the Big Dance every year this will be just the fourth time, the Peacocks have heard their name called. Overall they are 0-3 in their previous appearances. In 1991 they fell to Texas 73-65; in 1995 UMASS won 68-51 and in 2011 Purdue came away a 65-43 winner.

Stream Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament with a free trial of Sling TV.

Kentucky and St. Peter’s have never met on the hardwood and in fact, the Peacocks have never been ranked in the AP Poll while UK has been in the poll 937 weeks.

Don’t sleep on the Peacocks who have a seven-game winning streak going after winning the MAAC over Monmouth for the automatic bid. Keep in mind that Saint Peter’s ranks among the national leaders in field goal percentage defense in their last two wins showed why holding Quinnipiac to 33 percent from the field and Monmouth to 24 percent.

Kentucky will be fueled by big man and Sporting News Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe along with TyTy Washington, Sahvir Wheeler, Keion Brooks, and Kellan Grady. They normally have a very productive bench, except for last Saturday, in Jacob Toppin, Lance Ware, Davion Mintz, Damion Collins.

While it would appear an easy victory in the opening round as the No. 15 seed only has a 9-135 record in the opening round against a No. 2 seed.

Should UK advance it could be an instate matchup up with Murray State in the round of 32. The No. 7 seeded Racers (30-2) play No. 10 San Francisco (24-9). Ironically UK and Murray have never played before and Kentucky and San Francisco have met just once in 1993 with Big Blue winning 110-83.

The other four in the lower bracket include No. 6 Texas vs No. 11 Virginia Tech (23-12) and No. 3 Purdue (27-7) playing No. 14 Yale (19-11).

The top half of the bracket has No. 1 Baylor vs No. 16 Norfolk State; No. 8 North Carolina vs No. 9 Marquette; No. 5 St. Mary’s vs No. 12 Wyoming or Indiana and No. 4 UCLA vs No. 11 Akron.

The team to give Kentucky the most fits from the upper half would be UCLA with Kentucky holding a slim 8-7 overall series lead. Overall Calipari-led teams at Kentucky are 2-3 against the Bruins.

If things hold true to form they would meet the West Region champion in the Final Four and that would be odds on favorite and overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga (26-3).

The top seeds in the other half of the bracket are Kansas in the South and Arizona in the Midwest.

In the history of the NCAA Tournament teams seeded No. 2 as is Kentucky have reached the final four 30 times, the National Championship 12, and have cut down the nets five times.

Can Kentucky make it six and bring home their ninth championship?

One of those titles was won by a Kentucky squad as a No. 2 seed and that was the 1998 team.

Others include Villanova in 2016, UCONN in 2004, Duke in 1991, and Louisville in 1986.

But this Kentucky team is built for the journey of winning it all. You can be John Calipari will have his team regrouped, refocused, and prepared to head up to Indy for Thursday’s game. Put the Tennessee game behind them move on. Win six more games in a row and you are the 2022 National Champion.