Tuesday was a tough pill to swallow for the Wildcats, as they fell at home in gut-wrenching fashion to LSU.
But while the loss stings, it should not have cost Kentucky much, if any ground in the NCAA Tournament picture.
On Saturday, the NCAA Tournament selection committee revealed their top 16 teams if Selection Sunday was on that day. Kentucky came in as the top 2 seed and was subsequently placed in the Midwest Region with Virginia as the 1 seed.
Here’s a look at the NCAA’s initial ranking of the top 16 teams and their respective seeds:
- (1) Duke Blue Devils
- (1) Tennessee Volunteers
- (1) Virginia Cavaliers
- (1) Gonzaga Bulldogs
- (2) Kentucky Wildcats
- (2) Michigan Wolverines
- (2) North Carolina Tar Heels
- (2) Michigan State Spartans
- (3) Purdue Boilermakers
- (3) Kansas Jayhawks
- (3) Houston Cougars
- (3) Marquette Golden Eagles
- (4) Iowa State Cyclones
- (4) Nevada Wolf Pack
- (4) Louisville Cardinals
- (4) Wisconsin Badgers
Since that ranking was revealed, Kentucky picked up a Quadrant I win at Mississippi State, then suffered a Quadrant I loss to LSU. Even had every team behind Kentucky won both of their games since then, the Wildcats would very likely still be a 2 seed.
But because most of those teams have since lost, it’s Kentucky should still be the top 2 seed if the regular season ended today.
Michigan, who was right behind Kentucky, did pick up a Quadrant I win at home over Wisconsin on Saturday. Had the Wolverines simply beat Penn State on Tuesday, they would have passed Kentucky for the top 2 seed.
But the Wolverines ended up suffering one of the biggest upsets of the college basketball season, as they lost 75-69 to a Penn State team that was 8-15 going into the game and 1-11 in Big Ten play, the lone win being over 12-11 Northwestern. It’s safe to assume Michigan is still behind Kentucky in the seed line.
North Carolina also had a chance to pass Kentucky by, but they needed overtime on Saturday to win 88-85 at home over 10-13 Miami. The Tar Heels then suffered a 69-61 home loss to Virginia on Monday, who had just lost by 10 at home to Duke.
I would guess North Carolina still passed Michigan, but it’s unlikely they passed Kentucky, if for no other reason than the road win over Mississippi State was far more impactful compared to beating Miami at home. And lest we forget about Kentucky’s convincing win over North Carolina on a neutral court, which should give the Wildcats a little more breathing room.
Michigan State would be an interesting case, as they picked up a Quadrant II home win over Minnesota, then scored a big Quadrant I road win at Wisconsin. But because the Spartans already have five losses, including one at home to 13-11 Indiana and another at 9-15 Illinois, it’s really hard to envision they jumped three spots to pass Kentucky, but they’re right on the Wildcats’ heels.
Purdue had a good chance to pass Kentucky after beating Nebraska at home, but a loss at Maryland killed any hope the Boilermakers had of passing the Wildcats.
Kansas couldn’t have done enough to pass Kentucky with wins over Oklahoma State and TCU.
One would think 23-1 Houston would be higher, especially after a Quadrant I home win over Cincinnati on Sunday, but based on where the committee ranked them on Saturday, there’s no way they jumped six spots to pass the Wildcats.
So, the good news is Kentucky is likely still the top 2 seed if Selection Sunday was today.
The bad news is the Wildcats blew a chance to potentially pass Gonzaga for the final 1 seed.
The Bulldogs did pick up a Quadrant II win over St. Mary’s on Saturday, but that was dwarfed by Kentucky’s win at Mississippi State, not to mention a win over LSU would have been another Quadrant I win. And if you add those with a win over Tennessee on Saturday, then it’s hard to see the Wildcats not passing the Bulldogs by the end of this week.
Unfortunately, Kentucky fell to LSU, ending any hope of passing Gonzaga this week. Now, Kentucky is just trying to remain the top 2 seed when they face the Vols this weekend. And because Tennessee was ranked No. 2 overall on Saturday, it’s very hard to see Kentucky passing them even with a win in Rupp on Saturday.
To get back in the 1 seed discussion, Kentucky has to beat the Vols at least once, then win out the rest of their regular-season games, the most difficult being at Ole Miss on March 5th, but don’t sleep on Auburn and a healthy Austin Wiley coming to Rupp on February 23rd.
At 20-4 with seven games left, Kentucky can probably afford two more losses and remain the top 2 seed since several of the teams behind them will take more losses (Michigan State and Michigan face off twice; North Carolina plays Duke twice).
The reason being the top 2 seed is important is because Duke is likely to be the No. 1 overall seed and host the East Region. As we learned Saturday, the top 2 seed will avoid Duke’s region.
While the Blue Devils are certainly beatable, they’re going to be the best team going into the tournament and the favorite to win it all. Avoiding that team before the Final Four would be very ideal.