I’m not going to sugarcoat things. After last night’s loss at Auburn, Kentucky is beginning to fall into the danger zone of missing the NCAA Tournament.
But as of now, they’re in, and although the schedule to finish the season is rather difficult, the Wildcats have the opportunity to pick up a couple of quality wins to secure their spot in the field. Once that is secured, we know how the tournament is and anything can happen.
Looking at the remainder of the schedule, Kentucky has five games remaining. Three of those will be at home and two on the road. The remaining schedule consists of home matchups against Alabama, Missouri, and Ole Miss, with road games at Arkansas and Florida.
To feel secure in an NCAA Tournament bid, Kentucky probably needs to finish 3-2 down the stretch. They can do so by taking care of business at Rupp Arena against Alabama, Missouri, and Ole Miss.
ESPN’s BPI has Kentucky favored in each of those matchups, but winning will be easier said than done. Two of those three games will provide quality wins if Kentucky can pull them off. Alabama and Missouri could both potentially qualify as Quadrant 1 wins under the new Team Sheet formula (more on that here).
But Missouri has shown the ability to beat Kentucky and Alabama has a roster makeup that I think can really cause trouble for Kentucky especially with PG Collin Sexton and John Petty (if he catches fire from the perimeter).
Ole Miss should be the easiest win on the schedule, and in a perfect Kentucky Basketball world, the Wildcats would get Ole Miss next to (hopefully) pick up an easy victory and try to build some momentum.
On the other hand though, you can’t write Ole Miss in as a win. Despite losing eight of their last nine, they do hold wins over Florida and Alabama... and this Kentucky team has shown that there probably will not be such a thing as an easy win the rest of the way.
If Kentucky drops one of their three home games, I think they really face some trouble because the two remaining road games do not seem to be great chances for victory. Bud Walton Arena is arguably one of the toughest places to play in the SEC, and has not been kind to freshmen-laden Kentucky teams in the past. Florida has already beaten Kentucky once this season, despite having their third-worst 3-point shooting performance of the season.
If the Wildcats can go 3-2 down the stretch, I think they’re in the tournament probably as a 8, 9, or 10 seed. However, that’s not a guarantee, and I think Kentucky probably needs to pull at least one win in the SEC Tournament off to avoid some anxiety on Selection Sunday.
Right now, Kentucky holds the tiebreaker over Mississippi State and Texas A&M to receive the 7th seed. As of today, that would mean they face Georgia (who owns the tiebreaker over LSU) in their first matchup. Getting a win in the first matchup, in my opinion, should give Kentucky quite a bit of security going into Selection Sunday.
How we view the tournament situation moving forward will hinge on the matchup against Alabama on Saturday. If Kentucky wins, I feel pretty confident that the Wildcats will be in the tournament. If they lose, I think things look pretty shaky.