Usually, the Big Blue Nation reserves Selection Sunday for complaining and cursing the NCAA. But this year, the committee made it difficult for anyone to gripe about the Kentucky Wildcats’ placement as the #2 seed in the Midwest.
UK will open tournament play on Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida against the #15 seeded Abilene Christian Wildcats of the Southland Conference. The game will tip off at 7:10 pm EST on CBS. Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel and Jamie Erdahl have the call.
Kentucky has already opened as a 22-point favorite, which is about the ragne we’ll see most 2 vs. 15 matchups.
The rather unknown mid-major school went 27-6 on the season and won their conference tournament championship on Saturday by beating New Orleans 77-60. This is only the 6th season that Abilene Christian has been a Division-I program and will mark their first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats are lead by 8th-year head coach Joe Golding who was a former ACU player and acted as a shepherd in moving his program to the Division I level.
Abilene Christian has shown steady improvement over the last several years and took a major leap this season by winning 27 games and finishing 2nd in the Southland Conference. You have to imagine that ACU probably wanted to see anyone else but Kentucky as their #2 seed in the Midwest. Still, they will undoubtedly be thrilled just to participate in the Big Dance.
March Madness is named that for a reason and it would serve UK well to not underestimate any opponent from here on out. Regardless of whether or not the Midwest Region seems favorable or not.
With seven Juniors and Seniors on the roster, Abilene Christian will come in with some valuable experience that they will hope to use as a counter attack for what they lack in athleticism.
Unbelievably, ACU dismissed their best player and another key contributor back on Feb 21st for a violation of team rules. Jalone Friday was a 6-9 star forward who was leading the team in scoring and Maxwell was adding nearly ten points a game.
Obviously, Coach Golding found a way to bring his team together and overcome such a big loss. But it only leads you to believe that it will be a near impossible task for a short handed mid-major team to keep up with a team like Kentucky.
ACU will have to ride with the players that they have on the roster and it has been working. Senior Forward Jaren Lewis leads his team in scoring and rebounding with 13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Lewis has been the pillar of consistency by averaging 13 points in each of the last three seasons. He has the experience of being a major contributor for his entire career at ACU and will only be counted on even more with the subtraction of Friday and Maxwell.
After weeks of anxiety and fearing the worst, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee actually gave Kentucky a favorable position in the 2019 draw. Ideally, the Cats’ would have been in Columbus and then Louisville. But it appears that Saturday’s loss to Tennessee prevented that from happening and instead gave the Vols the #2 seed in Louisville.
That being said, Duke was avoided, and the path to the Final Four is very doable as the #2 seed in the Midwest.