Fresh off their wild 82-78 semifinal loss to the Tennessee Volunteers in the SEC Tournament, the Kentucky Wildcats gathered at the home of coach John Calipari to learn their seed and region for the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday.
The Cats were named the 2 seed in the Midwest Region and will play the 15 seed Alibline Wildcats on Thursday. The first weekend games will be in Jacksonville.
The top seed will be the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The Cats managed to avoid the Duke Blue Devils, who are the No. 1 overall seed in the East Region. The Michigan State Spartans get to be their 2 seed, one of the most undesirable spots in the tournament to be in.
For the Cats, it’s been a wild season to say the least, filled with many highs and some lows too. There’s nothing to say the “madness” is stopping anytime now.
After UK went to the Bahamas over the summer and looked scintillating in four scrimmages, the hopes of BBN were sky high for the season ahead. The Cats were loaded and looked like a National Championship contender to say the very least. After coasting through two exhibitions, Kentucky went to Indianapolis to face Duke in the season opening Champions Classic sky high.
Then, Zion Williamson and Duke had their way with the Cats, blistering them 118-84. All those aspirations for the season crashed. After that, the Cats struggled defensively and offensively at times but did run off a six game winning streak going into the Citi Hoops Classic in New York City against a solid Seton Hall squad. The Cats fought valiantly but fell on a last second three to the Pirates 84-83.
The Cats returned home to the friendly confines of Rupp Arena to soundly defeat Utah 88-61 to set up another blue-blood matchup, this time with North Carolina.
There would be no letdown again against an ACC power as the Cats beat the Tar Heels 80-72 in the CBS Sports Classic. The Cats turned around and beat arch-rival Louisville 71-58 on the road to set up the now No. 13 Cats for SEC play, opening on the road at Alabama.
Unfortunately, the Crimson Tide upset the Cats 77-75, giving another opportunity for doubt to creep in about this team and how the rest of the season could play out. But the Cats got hot again, winning three straight SEC matchups with three straight Top 25 teams on the horizon: No. 14 Auburn, No. 22 Mississippi State, and No. 9 Kansas.
The Cats answered the critics with three more wins, by two over the Tigers, 21 over the Bulldogs, and eight over the Jayhawks. The Cats ended the month with a blowout victory at Vanderbilt 87-52. UK was rolling, jumping to No. 7 in the country going into February.
The Cats opened the month with wins over Florida, South Carolina, and Mississippi State and climbed back into the Top 5 with No. 19 LSU coming to Rupp. The Tigers escaped with a 73-71 upset on a questionable tip-in at the buzzer. But the Cats had found their identity, players found their roles, and the season again looked like it could be a good one.
Enter the Tennessee Volunteers.
If the Cats had any hopes of winning the SEC, they had to go through the Vols. Tennessee came to Rupp for round one ranked No. 1 in the country and featuring the dynamic duo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.
The Cats were No. 5 and featuring their own player of the year candidate in PJ Washington, their own warrior in senior forward Reid Travis, and their freshman playmaking backcourt of Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, and Ashton Hagans.
In one of the best games of the John Calipari era, the Cats demolished the Vols 86-69 in a raucous, sold-out Rupp Arena in front of a national audience. The Cats were rolling going into a road game at Missouri.
Then potential tragedy struck. As the Cats were beating the Tigers, Travis suffered a knee injury that caused all of BBN to hold its collective breath. Would the senior forward be healthy to finish his only year in Lexington?
Fortunately for the Cats, Travis’ injury turned out to be a knee sprain. But he would sit out the rest of the regular season as a precaution, giving UK big men EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards added minutes to prepare for March.
Both took advantage of the minutes, giving the Cats valuable time as UK defeated Auburn and Arkansas going into a hostile Thompson-Boling Arena to face the Vols in round two.
Without Travis, the Vols took advantage of the inside with Williams and Schofield and forced many UK turnovers and blew out the Cats 71-52. But everyone had the feeling this wasn’t the last time the Cats and Vols would hook up.
The Cats closed SEC play with a tight road win at Ole Miss and a Senior Day victory over Florida, finishing 15-3 in SEC play and ranked No. 4 in the country.
Next up, the SEC Tournament.
After defeating Alabama 73-55 in their first game in Nashville behind the return of Travis and the play of Washington, Herro and Immanuel Quickley off the bench, the Vols awaited the Cats in the rubber match of their series. It did not disappoint.
The two SEC juggernauts went toe to toe for 40 minutes, but the Vols made a late run to defeat the Cats.
Now, the Cats prepare for a deep run in March and into April as they fight for the big prize: Their ninth national title.
Can the Cats make it to Minneapolis?
Time will tell.
Let the Madness begin!