As we approach the NCAA Tournament Selection Show and the release of the official brackets this evening (6 p.m. ET, CBS), a legion of UK fans -- fed up and frustrated -- is starting to get itchy about the Kentucky bid.
I am not one of them. Here are the reasons (a) the Cats are a lock for the tourney and (b) the UK seed could be better than you think.
(1) Strength of Schedule
Much has been made, and rightly so, about UK's lack of wins over ranked teams. And, similarly, much has been said about how, then, the Kentucky schedule is still among the top 2 or 3 in the nation according to all indicators.
But while the Cats have come up short against the best of the best, very few teams in the nation have played more quality teams (50-100 RPI).
To wit, among the UK non-conference opponents who either made the field, finished atop their conference's regular season or competed in the conference finals are:
- Miami (OH) - Regular season #2 MAC, NCAA Tourney as Conf. tourney champ
- UMass - Regular season champ (tie), at-large possible
- EKU - NCAA Tourney as OVC champ
- Santa Clara - WCC #2, lost to Gonzaga in conf. finals
- College of Charleston - Lost to Winthrop in conf. finals
- Houston - Lost to Memphis in conf. finals
- Miss. Valley State - Lost to Jackson St. in conf. finals
(2) Fan Support
Let's face it, Big Blue Nation travels. That's unsurprising. But the amount of money the NCAA and its sites stand to make from the legion of Kentucky fans is both remarkable and distinct. In some ways, placing the Cats in a nearby locale, even as a lower seed, would bring in hundreds of thousands of duckets. A win or two only amplifies that. If you think this doesn't factor into who makes the field and where, you really are too naive to drive.
(3) The Numbers Game
With 21 wins and an RPI in the 10-12 range across the computers, there is simply no precedent for leaving the Wildcats out of the field. Yes, there were problems with the last 10 games, and, yes, the season did not go as planned. But compared to many of the other major conference teams being considered, the Cats stack up more than favorably.
I expect Kentucky to be a 7 or 8 seed, in Winston-Salem or Chicago. A win over Miss. St. might have scooted the Cats to a 6 seed. I'd be very surprised with such computer numbers if the Big Blue slid to a 9 or 10, though certainly it can happen.
Regardless, the time for recriminations and blame is over. It's Tourney time, and the Cats need everything we have as fans. One more loss ends the long, strange trip of this season, and begins the unfolding of all the other stuff.
Postponing that "stuff" for a few weeks would be nice, eh?