We are going to take a slightly different approach to the night post tonight. Today was a huge day in the world of college basketball. Most teams were wrapping up regular season play, while a few other conferences either started or finished their tournaments as well. With the madness of March in full swing, we are going to take a look at everything that happened today and what the implications were for Kentucky.
The SEC regular season finished in dramatic fashion, with a few marquee games with major implications going down to the wire. Here are the results from the day:
—– As exciting as the Kentucky/Florida game was, Alabama and Georgia had the game of the day in the SEC. With the game tied in the final seconds, Alabama’s Trevor Releford hit a half-court buzzer beater to send the Crimson Tide to a 61-58 win. —– The other exciting game of the afternoon belonged to Tennessee and Missouri. Missouri’s star point guard Phil Pressey had a costly turnover at the end of the game that helped Tennessee grab the victory, the Volunteers’ 9th over a top-100 ranked team on the season. The Tennessee win and Alabama win resulted in Kentucky keeping the 7/10 match-up we had hoped for between Arkansas and Vanderbilt. Had Tennessee lost to Missouri, the Volunteers would have finished in the #7 spot, which would have made for a potentially very tough match-up for Kentucky in the quarterfinals. —– Kentucky was able to win a 3-way tie-break with Ole Miss and Alabama (both had 12-6 records as well) by virtue of the 1-1 record against the top-ranked team in the SEC (Florida). The 3 teams all had had 1-1 records amongst one another, leading to the Florida tie-break. —– When it’s all said and done, with as tumultuous of a season as this Kentucky team has had— finishing as the #2 seed in the SEC tournament behind only Florida is about as good of an outcome as we could have imagined.
THE SEC BUBBLE:
Last week nearly all of the SEC teams on the bubble fell short when given the opportunity to improve their footing. Kentucky, Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee all walked away with losses last weekend. Today all 4 of the teams considered to be squarely on “the bubble,” along with Arkansas (bubble onlooker) came away with wins.
–> Kentucky’s Win: The Wildcats had the biggest win of the day over the 11th ranked Florida Gators. As far as resume’-boosting goes, Kentucky gave itself the biggest lift with the win. After losing to a Georgia team who will not be playing in the NCAA tournament, Kentucky was in desperate need of a win to get back on the right side of the bubble talk. Joe Lunardi, as well as a host of other bracket-geeks, have put Kentucky back into the mix for the NCAA tournament. Kentucky’s current position appears to be in better shape after the win, putting the Cats in a “Last Four In” scenario.
Some still believe that Kentucky needs to get at least 1 win in the SEC tournament to feel completely secure in the field of 68. With a potential match-up with either Vanderbilt or Arkansas, I see no reason why Kentucky can’t accomplish that next week.
–> Tennessee’s Win: Tennessee had the 2nd biggest resume’-boosting win of the day. Tennessee was already on a positive roll after after winning 8 of its last 9 games, including wins over Florida and Kentucky. Going into the day, Missouri appeared to be an NCAA tournament lock. The Vols were able to pick up yet another top-50 win over a likely tournament team. In his second year, Cuonzo Martin has continued his tradition of having teams finish with a strong back half of the season. If the Vols were strictly being measured by “what you’ve done lately” terms, they would be in the field without a doubt. A few troubling losses early still sting the Vols. If Tennessee can win 1-2 games in the SEC tournament, I think the current hot streak they are on will carry them into the tournament. Tennessee will have a fairly easy first game against the winner of South Carolina and Mississippi State. If Tennessee can’t win that game in front of a home-state crowd, perhaps they don’t deserve a bid. If Tennessee can win that game, and then turn around to beat Alabama– things might be looking really good for the Vols. –> Ole Miss’ Win: Ole Miss’ win over LSU likely did nothing to enhance the Rebels tournament resume’, but more importantly– a loss would have probably crushed any hope. The Rebels also set themselves up for the all-important double-bye in the SEC tournament. The Rebels probably still have some work to do in the SEC tournament next week. A quarterfinal match-up with Missouri could provide a tough test for the Rebels, but also a chance for a solid win. –> Alabama’s Win: Due to the dramatic nature of the win, Alabama caught plenty of national attention. The win over the Bulldogs was likely a life support type of situation for Bama’s tournament hopes. Of the 4 SEC bubble teams, Bama could benefit most from a deep SEC tournament run. Clinching the double-bye today was a good first step, but Alabama needs to pick up as many wins as possible along the way. The potential quarterfinal game between Tennessee and Alabama could almost be a play-in type of game for the Crimson Tide. –> Arkansas’ Win: I’m still not sure Arkansas is completely on the bubble. They are close. Bottom line… Arkansas would have to prove a lot next week in Nashville. Arkansas has the highest mountain to climb. The Razorbacks have to prove that they are capable of winning away from home, and I’m not sure they can do it. If Arkansas can get past Vandy, they will have a match-up with Kentucky waiting in the quarterfinals. With the game in Nashville, that game will be like a home game for the Wildcats. Add to that the sting of the recent Razorback win over the Cats, and I think Kentucky would be primed to get revenge. –> Missouri’s Loss: WAIT. Missouri is yet another team that has been added to the SEC bubble picture? Why not? A week ago, Missouri wasn’t in this position. A week ago, Missouri was out of the top 25 but still safely in the field of 68. After losing to Kentucky and Tennessee, Missouri finished 6th in the SEC. Missouri may not have been a bubble team all season like most of these teams, but the Tigers finished behind each of the 5 SEC bubble teams in the SEC standings. I still think Missouri is probably okay, but if they fall to the Texas A&M/Auburn winner, or even Ole Miss in the quarterfinals…some questions might start popping up about how Missouri compares to some of the other SEC bubble teams.
BREAKING DOWN THE SEC BRACKET for KENTUCKY:
–> Kentucky not only picked up a huge win over a very good Florida team this afternoon, but the Wildcats also clinched the #2 seed in the SEC tournament, securing the double-bye for next week. Kentucky will have the chance to sit back and watch a few other teams fight for a place in the quarterfinals. –> As far as potential quarterfinal match-ups go, the Vandy/Arkansas draw is a pretty good one for Kentucky. Kentucky has handled Vandy (though the games have ended up being close in the end) twice this season. Vandy doesn’t provide any huge individual match-up issues for Kentucky. Arkansas recently beat Kentucky, but the game was played in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks are a totally different team away from home. I think on a neutral court, Kentucky wins that game 9 out of 10 times. And there won’t be anything neutral about the court in Nashville if Kentucky faces off against Arkansas on Friday night. #KentuckyEffect –> If Kentucky is able to move on to the semi-finals, a difficult task could be waiting. Missouri or Ole Miss would likely be the two teams Kentucky would see in that Saturday afternoon game. We saw that Kentucky struggled to stay in front of Missouri’s guards and match the physical play down low. Kentucky was able to top the Tigers in overtime in Rupp, but again– player for player Missouri is a tough one for the Cats. With that said, a win over either Ole Miss OR Missouri in that game would be another solid resume’-booster for Kentucky heading into Selection Sunday. –> The bracket set up nicely for Kentucky if avoiding top-seeded Florida until the finals was the goal. Coming off of an emotional win today, prolonging another match-up with the Gators until the finals might not be a bad thing. –> I still think Tennessee could be the sleeper team on that side of the bracket though. Don’t be surprised if the Vols slide into Sunday’s final. Tennessee still has a lot on the line, and Florida has not proven itself away from home this season. Florida has probably backed itself out of a #1 seed, so the Gators won’t necessarily have that on the line. After a end of the regular season loss though, Florida might be hungry to prove their worth again to the rest of the country as a title contender.
THE “Rest of the BUBBLE”:
Bubbles were once again poked, prodded, popped and blown up again today in the world of college basketball. Some teams who’s NCAA tournament dreams appeared to be lifeless 2 weeks ago, suddenly jumped back onto the scene. A few teams who were secure a week ago will be biting nails and desperately trying to collect a few more wins in conference tournament play.
–> Baylor roared back to life with a win over #4 ranked Kansas. The Bears seemed completely hopeless after losing 5 of 6 leading into the Kansas game tonight. Although it’s still hard to imagine a 18-13 Baylor team making the field over the host of other teams on the bubble, Baylor at least brought itself back into a conversation it had been completely kicked out of a week ago. –> Boise State moved into Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four In” with a win today over San Diego State. With wins over Creighton, UNLV and Colorado State, the Broncos have probably done enough to push themselves into the field. Boise State was already in good position before the day started, and the win today only padded the Broncos’ position. –> Memphis and Creighton likely punched their tickets today with solid wins. Memphis rattled off an undefeated Conference USA regular season, while Creighton ruined Indiana State’s final hope for a bid in the Missouri Valley semis. –> Iowa State, UMASS and Iowa all kept themselves in the running with wins today as well. All 3 still have work to do in their conference tournaments though. Unless Iowa State completely flounders in the Big 12 Tournament next week, the Cyclones should be in. The deeper UMASS can play in the A-10 tournament, the better. UMASS has a collection of bad losses that continue to haunt them when stacked up against other bubble teams. The numbers aren’t helpful for Iowa, and they are entering the bubble discussion awfully late. The Big 10 is loaded with good teams, but if Iowa can manage to rattle off a few wins in the tournament– they COULD, I repeat COULD, squeak in. Not highly likely though. –> Oklahoma and Minnesota both took a bad loss today against TCU and Purdue respectively. Both still appear to be in solidly in the field at this point, but the Gophers especially are limping into the tournament. Tubby’s squad are on a bad 2-game skid, and for the second year in a row now they have started hot and cooled significantly down the stretch. –> For some reason LaSalle has managed to stay in Lunardi’s “Last Four In” despite a loss today against St. Louis. –> Arizona State, Louisiana Tech, Providence, St. John’s and Xavier have all put themselves in “win the tournament or your likely out” situations after the last few weeks. I wouldn’t worry too much about any of these teams. I also wouldn’t root for any of them to steal an automatic bid.
As of right now, if Lunardi is your guy…here is what he’s saying:
Last Four In:
First Four Out:
TWO RANDOM PIECES OF NEWS:
–> One of the good guys in the world of college basketball, Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, might have seen his college career end on a heart-breaking play. Canaan had the ball in overtime with a chance to win the game for the Racers with the game tied 68-68. Canaan inadvertently dribbled the ball off of his foot, setting up a game-winner for Belmont. Belmont won the automatic bid for the OVC, which might will probably leave Murray State, one of the sweethearts of last season, out of the big dance.
And last but not least, Andrew Wiggins was on his official visit to North Carolina this weekend. Wiggins arrived in town just in time to see Duke put a beat down on the Tar Heels. I usually don’t ever thank Duke for anything, but this once I might.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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