It’s no secret to anyone in the Big Blue Nation or anyone that’s been following the new SEC regular season champions, but Kentucky’s arguably the hottest team in America and basically have two weeks to prep themselves for the SEC Tournament in (BB)Nashville as the tournament’s No. 1 seed.
They’ve gone from a team that lost to nine-win Evansville at home, looked lost and confused about who they were after a trip to Las Vegas that resulted in one bad loss to a mediocre-to-bad Utah team and another to an Ohio State bunch that has found their footing again after a horrid stretch following their win over the Cats, to a team that could legitimately cut the down the nets in Atlanta.
That raises a few questions about them, but one in particular for me personally: can Kentucky actually do something that seemed unthinkable just a month ago and snag a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they continue this roll they’ve been on?
Let’s break this down a bit here and say Kentucky beats Tennessee and wins at Florida this week to close the regular season on a 10-game win streak to sit at 26-5.
Three wins in three days during the SEC Tournament over Tennessee again (No. 8 seed as of now), Mississippi State (No. 4 seed) and Auburn (No. 2) would give them their eighth win in 11 chances over a ‘quadrant 1’ team and has them as the undisputed SEC champion at 29-5 and likely a top-5 ranking in the final AP poll of the season before the Big Dance starts.
Including that 8-3 record against ‘quad 1’ teams, Kentucky would finish with an 8-2 true road game record, one of the factors that plays in the process of completing the NET rankings.
Kentucky sits at No. 6 in this week’s AP Poll and only Kansas (11) and Baylor (10) have more wins in ‘quad 1’ than the Cats in terms of teams ahead of them in the poll.
Here’s where things get tricky for Kentucky, though.
Most of, if not, all of the teams with a realistic shot at a top-4 (or 8) overall seed in the tournament are either in front of or just behind Kentucky in the new NET rankings.
Kansas, Gonzaga, Dayton, San Diego State and Baylor — the five teams ahead of Kentucky in the AP Poll — are all ahead of Kentucky in the NET in that specific order as we speak. Teams like Duke (No. 6), Michigan State (No. 7), Louisville (No. 8) and Florida State (No. 11) are also all ahead of Kentucky.
Good news for Kentucky: they own a 69-62 neutral-site victory over Michigan State in the State Farm Champions Classic this season in New York and a 78-70 overtime win against Louisville at home, so that helps. Plus, the Cards are 10th and Sparty is 16th in the new AP Poll, so surpassing the Cats (assuming they keep winning) seems unlikely.
Also, yes ... I know. Duke’s been awful lately (three ugly losses in their last five games) and yet still sit eight places in front of Kentucky in these rankings. I don’t get it either. It’s not like the ACC isn’t top-heavy like the SEC this season with the Cards, ‘Noles and Virginia.
What also makes Kentucky’s chances tougher is if these teams finish the season with wins and then proceed to either make a deep run in their conference tournaments or win them, that severely hurts Kentucky’s chances at a 1-seed because of the other teams’ chances at more ‘quad 1’ win opportunities than Kentucky will probably have (even if all the top seeds win in the SEC Tournament).
Basically, Kansas could play Baylor for a third time in the Big XII. Duke, Louisville, FSU and Virginia can beat up on each some more and the Big Ten is just chaos, which could lead to a string of more ‘quad 1’ wins for someone.
Also, a reminder: Kentucky only played LSU once (won on the road) and split the two meetings with Auburn, the only other team in ‘quad 1’ with Kentucky up to this point. (LSU is No. 32 in the NET rankings as of now. ‘Quad 1’ is teams ranked 1-30 in the NET.) A potential second win over Auburn or even LSU would be helpful.
Teams like Seton Hall (No. 8 in the AP Poll) and Creighton (No. 11) in the Big East are behind the Cats in the poll, but sit right in front of Kentucky in the NET rankings as the No. 12 and 13 teams respectively.
Basically, this would be Kentucky’s resume in a perfect world heading into the NCAA Tournament: 29-5 (16-2 in SEC play), 8-2 road record, 4-2 neutral record, SEC regular season champions, SEC Tournament champions, currently on 13-game win streak with the latter part potentially playing a quiet factor in where Kentucky is seeded.
The road and neutral-site records matter because road (+1.4 towards) and neutral (+1.0) wins mean more in the NET rankings’ “adjusted win percentage” factor; one of the NET’s five biggest components.
In the overall outlook of the situation, a 2-seed is a probable outcome if Kentucky goes 5-0 or maybe 4-1 in the next five games, pending on when that hypothetical loss comes and/or if other teams jockeying for a high seed lose around the nation. Still, winning out would be Kentucky’s best bet at a spot on the second line and their only chance at a No. 1 seed.
There’s also the geographic locations of the NCAA Tournament’s opening rounds that have played a part in the seeding selections.
For example, as the likely No. 1 overall seed in the present day, Kansas would open their tournament run in Omaha in the Midwest Region because the second-weekend host is Indianapolis. The three other second-weekend host sites are Houston (South), New York (East) and Los Angeles (West).
First-weekend sites that would make traveling shorter and likely easier for the BBN could be Cleveland or St. Louis, which if you trust Joe Lunardi’s “Bracketology” (and I’d advise you to probably not do that), those locations are included in three of the tournament regions: the Midwest, the West and the East. The East possesses the last No. 1 seed (No. 4 overall) in San Diego State as of now.
Kentucky has plenty of work left this season, even if these final two games appear to not really matter. They’ve already clinched the SEC regular season title with a week to go and won’t play another game after Saturday until the upcoming Friday afternoon in Nashville.
Although two wins this week may not really matter for SEC Tournament seeding purposes, they could go a long way in helping get the Kentucky Wildcats another No. 1 seed in the tournament that really matters over the next 12 days.