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Kentucky is in the Bracket of Death, Again


The road to the Final Four is never easy. Kentucky’s 2018 NCAA Tournament draw is difficult, familiar territory for John Calipari.

Following the likeliest route to a ninth National Championship, Kentucky will first face Mrs. Tyler Thompson’s beloved alma mater, Davidson. If Kentucky can get by the fighting Steph Curry’s Wildcats, up next is Arizona. The Pac-12 Tournament Champions are led by DeAndre Ayton, an athletic seven-footer widely regarded as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Waiting in the Sweet 16 is the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, the Virginia Cavaliers. If Kentucky makes it that far, a rematch with Tennessee or possibly Cincinnati awaits.

It’s ridiculous that two Power Five conference champions can meet in the second round. It’s even more gut-wrenching when UK’s potential opponent has won eight of their last nine games and is arguably the hottest team in the country.

The challenges Virginia potentially presents are many. The Cavaliers always have one of the best defenses in the country. What makes this team different is their athletes. Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Devon Hall and DeAndre Hunter are no joke. They only lost twice in the league that put nine teams in the NCAA Tournament. There’s a reason why the Wahoos believe this is the year Tony Bennett finally gets the Cavaliers to the Final Four.

The task is daunting, but it’s one Calipari has conquered before as Kentucky’s head coach.

2011

Nobody expected John Calipari’s second Kentucky team to make a run to the Final Four, especially after seeing the Cats’ draw.

Kentucky did not have it easy against the Ivy League Champs in the opening round. Brandon Knight’s buzzer-beating layup carried Kentucky to a 59-57 win over Princeton. A familiar foe was next, the West Virginia Mountaineers. Eliminated in the Elite Eight by Bob Huggins’ team just a year before, a victory was far from a sure thing. Luckily, Kentucky got revenge with an eight-point win.

Waiting for Kentucky in the Sweet 16 was the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, Ohio State. Kentucky’s role players answered the call. DeAndre Liggins had 15 points and shut down the Buckeyes’ elite scoring swingman, William Buford. Josh Harrellson did not get pushed around inside by Jared Sullinger.

Most importantly, when Kentucky needed a hero, Brandon Knight was prepared to make March magic.

The Cats drew the second-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in the Elite Eight. The favorite to win the National Championship the following year, some how, some way, Kentucky had enough left in the tank to conquer the 2011 East Region bracket of death.

2014

If you think Arizona is a tough second round opponent, talk to the 2014 Kentucky Wildcats. After a rocky regular season, they had to go through an undefeated Wichita State team to advance to the second weekend of the tournament.

Wichita State did not have a DeAndre Ayton in their frontcourt, but the No. 1 overall seed did have three excellent scorers – Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. None of them presented a particularly difficult mismatch, but all three rarely missed. The only way for Kentucky to win was to keep up, and that’s exactly what they did.

After surviving in St. Louis, the Cats met Louisville down the road in Indianapolis. The defending National Champions (well, not anymore) had only lost once in two months. Even though Kentucky won the regular season match-up at Rupp Arena, the Cards had Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, senior firepower with Final Four experience. How do you combat experienced offensive firepower?  With a little March magic, courtesy of Aaron Harrison.

It did not get any easier for Kentucky after the Sweet 16, but thanks to Harrison’s grande huevos, Kentucky beat the defending National Runner-Ups in the Elite Eight and an All-American laden Wisconsin team in the Final Four.

It took a lot of magic, but Coach Cal survived the bracket of death to reach the National Championship game.

2016

There was one bracket of death John Calipari could not conquer. This year’s South Region feels a lot like the 2016 East Region.

This year Kentucky will travel to an obscure location, Boise, as a five-seed, while the team they just beat in the SEC Tournament Championship received a higher seed. In 2016, Kentucky traveled to an obscure location, Des Moines, as a four-seed, while the team they defeated in the SEC Tournament Championship received a higher seed.

In 2016, Kentucky did not have a problem with Stony Brook in the opening round. If they could survive through Des Moines, arguably the most talented team in the country was next, North Carolina. The Tar Heels were not the No. 1 overall seed, but they were good enough to come within a buzzer-beater from a National Championship.  However, Kentucky did not survive to the second weekend, thanks to Indiana.

Tom Crean’s team won the Big Ten Regular season title behind Yogi Berra, Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams. The key to the high-scoring Hoosiers’ success vs. Kentucky was simple: feed Bryant.

Kentucky had no answer for the Indiana big man. A complete mismatch in the post against Skal Labissiere, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress, Bryant could not be stopped. The only two shots he missed were three-pointers. He finished with 19 points, 5 rebounds and a 73-67 win.

Folks, Thomas Bryant is no DeAndre Ayton. The Wildcats’ seven-footer can do just about anything on the court, and right now he’s playing his best basketball. This season he’s averaging 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, but he’s scored a career-high 32 points in each of his last two games.

Ayton isn’t the only Arizona player that will be a problem. Alonzo Trier (18.4 ppg) and Rawle Alkins (13.4 ppg) are efficient scorers that have helped the Wildcats become the No. 3 shooting team in the country (50.3 percent).

John Calipari has fought through difficult draws to the Final Four with teams that clicked at the right time.  This year’s team is rolling, but they also need a little March magic from an unexpected hero to make a deep run in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

76 responses to “Kentucky is in the Bracket of Death, Again”

  1. cking

    Disagree on the Brack of Death…

    We could be playing Murray St during the 1st round and then Wichita St….but West Virginia has that privilege.

    Arizona is over rated..Ken Pom has them at 21.

    Cat make it to face Virginia.

    I like our chances..

    1. jahanc2uky

      4 of the top 7 basketball conferncrs have their tourney Champs in this bracket. Definition of Bracket of Death.

    2. jahanc2uky

      6 of 8 (ACC, SEC, Pac 12, American, A-10, & Horizon). Michigan and Nova all that is being missed.

    3. Swizzle

      Agreed

    4. syrin23

      I could care less about tourney champs. Most NCAA winners didn’t win their conference tourneys. What I don’t hear ANYONE talking about is UK is playing KILLER defense. High caliber, championship winning level defense. Arizona is massively over rated. I have watched a dozen of their games and they are not impressive. We will swarm their bigs, and they are average defensively. Virginia? BWAHAHAHAHA!! They win by playing D, and cannot score. We will hold them to under 50 points and score 60+. UK has the formula to win. We won our conference tourney without our best rebounder. We get him back for the tourney. I think we roll. The ONLY question I have about this team is do we see the old UK team surface like they did against Florida? I doubt it.

  2. Parker_UKFanNC

    Wow Deandre hit 15 three pointers.

    1. Smyrna_Cat

      That is about $7,000 per three.

    2. BNClay

      And Yogi Berra rose from the dead to lead the Hoosiers. #proofread

    3. CatBlue in LR

      To paraphrase what Yogi used to say — it got late early for us that year.

  3. Smyrna_Cat

    Again, this blurb is just silly. I like our draw. We have to beat good teams, but that is what is expected to win a title.

    1. syrin23

      There is no great team this year. Virginia and Arizona might not even make it to play us. This is a year where a 4 or higher seed wins it all.

  4. IAmTheDanger

    I just want to congratulate the NCAA committee. I didn’t think they could top the UK screwjob of last year….but they came through and screwed us even bigger and better this year….bravo committee, you are gettin’ it done.

    1. Kevin C

      UK didn’t get screwed….MTSU, OK St., St. Mary’s and USC got screwed.

    2. Cryingtheblues

      Agreed

    3. syrin23

      How in the hell did Oklahoma get in? The message they sent is, “Get 18 wins by mid January and you are guaranteed a spot in the tourney”.

  5. Rembrandt

    Nick, please just stop with the teaser journalism. We are an unranked team. So, do we have to play some good teams in the NCAA Tournament? Yes, we do. Why would this constitute grounds for a column about a “death bracket”? Might you be exaggerating a little to appeal to the worst instincts of our most paranoid fans? I think yes.

    1. runningunnin.454

      I don’t think any of us give a rat’s a$$ whom we play; I don’t care if we played Virginia followed by Villanova followed by Puke followed by UNCheat.
      Rembrandt, you seem to be a lover of the corrupt ncaa, how can you justify UNCheat playing 150 miles from their campus, and we have to travel 1900 goddamn miles. At least we won our conference tournament.

    2. Smyrna_Cat

      Runnin’ … every year there is a team that plays close to home. Kansas plays there first game in the state, don’t they? I expect if you look over the last 10 years you will find numerous examples of a team playing close to home. In UNC’s case, who knows why they got that draw … but they are a number 2 seed and deserve more consideration that a 10 seed.

    3. runningunnin.454

      Smyrna, I guess you think Oklahoma deserves consideration for losing 9 out of 11 games, including 6 in a row, and getting beat in the first game of their tournament.
      It seems UNCheat gets more than their fair share of consideration; they couldn’t even win their conference tournament;and they play in their home state?
      The ncaa is obviously corrupt; I would rather put half of the teams in one hat, the other half in another hat, and the venues in a third hat, and let pretty girls draw from the hats…zero corruption.

  6. bluerhino

    I didn’t remember Deandre hitting 15(!!!) threes against Ohio state. Super impressive. Facts are optional. Go cats.

  7. Wildcat Sheli

    And should we meet Arizona . . . there is the story line between Calipari and Sean Miller. They call each other cousins and their families consider each other family. I can only imagine what it must feel like to coach against one another . . . but I’m sure the Committee didn’t think about that story line at all. #Ratings

    1. Smyrna_Cat

      Perhaps Miller and their center will both be suspended by then.

  8. Jiminy Crickets

    Duke gets Iona, then either Oklahoma, who shouldn’t have gotten in the tourney at all, or the team that couldn’t beat the team we play in the first round

    1. Kevin C

      Wait, are you suggesting Duke got an easy bracket ?!?!?! 0_0

    2. 4everUKblue

      That never happens…

    3. Optional Facts

      Young goes off and Duke gets bounces in the first weekend… again

  9. WatchutalkinboutWillis

    Not anywhere close to the bracket of death. Is this just the obligatory complain about our placement post? I like it. AZ will be tough but I like our path otherwise. What exactly is there to complain about here?

  10. KYcats11

    Let’s beat those damn cheaters in the second round.

  11. Kevin C

    So, according to Nick, Boise is “obscure”, LOL. Hey Nick, you need to get a dictionary, and a thesaurus, and read them front to back, and then back to front….and in the meantime stop using words that are “obscure” to you.

    1. brian

      Nick is the worst blogger on this website. I don’t even read his posts anymore, just the comments telling him how freaking stupid he is. His writing is a joke.

  12. Rembrandt

    UK is an unranked team and a #5 seed. What of it? So, why are some of our fans shocked that UK will have to play some strong teams in the NCAA Tournament? Do you folks understand how seeding works? Is it easier for you to cook up asinine conspiracy theories than to face the fact that we are a #5?

    1. 4everUKblue

      And there is the conspiracy theory allegation I knew was coming. Conspiracy and paranoid are two of your favorite words when trying to look superior to others.

    2. IAmTheDanger

      You are clueless my man

    3. GM1978

      South region contains 6 of the top 17 RPI ranked teams, so there’s definitely an argument that can be made…

  13. shelby

    Given our season and youth of this team; i think we got a pretty fair draw. Not scared of Zona, put ayton in sone pick and roll and make him chase shai to the basket.

  14. makeitstop

    Does Mark Emmert have autographed Roy Williams knee pads? How is this even a rational draw?! Carolina is a 10 loss 2 seed and their toughest matchup would be a hot Michigan team w 7 losses and then Xavier… it’s nonsense. And UVa doesn’t have 2 league losses Nick, they have one by one point on a missed FT by a kid w pneumonia at the time. The other was to Big 12 WVU at WVU when they were 5 point ‘dogs. They are not as dominant w personnel as our 2015 team but they are more dominant for the season than any team since then so if anyone things that’s not going to take a miracle u haven’t been watching them this year. We better have Vando back and that’s IF we get past Arizona who’s also got 3 first rounders hitting stride. This draw was a joke, and it’s to the point the network owning the rights should do their seeding w some actual basketball people bc ncaa is a JOKE.

    1. IAmTheDanger

      Amen brother!!

  15. porkchopcash

    I watched that 2015 game against Indiana and I swear I don’t remember Yogi Berra playing. I know that he used to play for the Yankees and he would have been around 90 years old at the time but I guess he had some college eligibility left.

    1. porkchopcash

      *2016

    2. BNClay

      Died in 2015 according to Wikipedia. Could have been a Tupac type deal though. Tom Cream has connections.

    3. makeitstop

      It was actually Yogi Bear… he was on fire that night.

  16. NoVaUK

    I know kentucky fans think they always get screwed in the bracket, but thinking that playing yogi Berra and the New York yankees is starting to make us look crazy.

    1. Smyrna_Cat

      Did we win??

  17. kyle heavy

    Yogi Berra. Hahaha, wow.

  18. makeitstop

    Yogi Ferrell, Nick. Now w the Mavs. Better jump shot that either Yogi Berra OR Yogi Bear.

  19. bradinmississippi

    I guess Yogi Berra had some eligibility left. I knew the rules for baseball players were kind of funky

  20. BigBlueNationDude

    This sucks but we deserved it.

  21. Mathlete

    Oh no, we have to beat several good teams to win a title. It’s so different from every year for every other team!

    It’s a good draw guys, the tournament is wide open and I like our chances as well as any other year

  22. gwhittle

    Stop complaining! We lost 10 games this season and got the best 5 seed! Yes, Arizona is a tough draw, but deal with it. It’s the ncaa tournament

  23. Rembrandt

    UK is an unranked team and a #5 seed. So, why are some of our fans shocked that UK will have to play some strong teams in the NCAA Tournament?

    1. syrin23

      Because a team like NC loses 10 games, loses at home to the School for the Blind and gets a two seed. How is Oklahoma not a 16 seed after losing almost every game after mid January?

  24. AmazzzingLarry

    Not quite the bracket of death. That was last year. How many times have UVA and Zona crapped out early in the NCAA tourney? Probably the biggest injustice can be blamed on the SEC for continuing to play its championship on Sunday, making the final irrelevant in the seeding. UK could have moved up to a 4 of the funds had been on Saturday.

    1. justaguyinthebackrow

      Also, give the top two teams an extra day before the big tourney. Only reason for a Sunday game is money with few other games to take viewers, which is the only reason the SEC needs.

  25. BTownUKFan

    To paraphrase Rat Forde: “We made our bed, now let’s kick azz and take names.” !! A. Harrison part two.
    GO CATS !!

  26. kentuck1

    Either Virginia, Arizona, or Kentucky will be one of the Final Four teams, in my opinion. The Cats got a tough draw but if they get past the first weekend, the road gets easier until they get to the Final Four. Then it’s a flip of the coin and who gets lucky at the end. It’s like a “reverse national championship”. Play the championship games first. It really doesn’t matter. Most of us fans never thought they would win the SEC tournament. But they did…

  27. jomani

    Can y’all please go one year without complaining about our draw? If we’re the best team we’ll win our games because guess what? We’ll be the superior team. If not we lose because we’re not the best team. Jesus it’s so simple. The whole world vs UK thing is ridiculous. Have faith in the guys to win and enjoy the ride

    1. antiquefurnitureandmidgets

      It’s ridiculous but it’s also exactly what every other fan base does. Just like the nationwide swath of fans convinced “ESPN hates us!!”.

  28. notFromhere

    Bracket of death?

    Bracket of incredulity!

    What’s the point of a resume and playing well to enter the tourney, if they don’t consider it and put all of the best tournament teams in one bracket. Absolutely heinous, like EVERYTHING the NCAA does.

    I don’t know who the ACC slept with to get this kind of yearly wet dream treatment, but they are for sure screwing everyone else in the brackets to favor the east coast teams, with few exceptions.

  29. notFromhere

    The Cats needed a tough draw this year, though. They might let up or revert otherwise. They didn’t need to be sent to Siberia to play, when other teams closer to that location could have better fit the billing.

  30. chris43

    It’s sickening…every single year! Not sure what can be done but something sure needs to be looked at because it’s bull shit!

  31. BlueHeaven

    Based on the level of complaining about the bracket one could conclude a lot of UK fans don’t believe in their team’s ability to win it all unless they were given a cake walk. If we learned anything this year it is no team is safe no matter what the matchup is so relax and enjoy the tournament. Did anyone think prior to the brackets that UK was going to win it all but now they won’t because they got screwed? All of this bitching and moaning makes UK fans look pathetic.

    1. T-wah

      I completely agree with you, BH. There probably weren’t very many of us BBNers that gave our Cats much of a chance to win the SEC tourney, especially when it was announced that Vando would not play. Let’s just enjoy the ride…however long that is. Our boys have finally put it together. Add Vando back in for hustle, rebounding, garbage baskets, and extra help on the inside. Who knows? Maybe we make it interesting. It does no good to theorize about the NCAA conspiring to screw UK. Does anyone in their right mind really think the committee sits around the table with an empty bracket and saying (with hands wringing), “Ok, first order of business: let’s make sure we screw the heck out of Kentucky.” That is just absurd and borderline narcissistic. There are other fanbases out there that feel the same way we do. Let’s just support and demonstrate faith in our team who, by the way, is playing their best basketball of the season. Go, Cats! I like my team and my coach!

    2. Sentient Third Eye

      T-wah, but don’t you wonder what it would be like to get a few “freebies” in our bracket the way Duke and Carolina always do? Like Duke getting a free pass to the Sweet 16 this year, only having to play perennial victim Iona and a completely broken Oklahoma team that could not be a women’s team.

    3. T-wah

      Possibly, but the NCAA tournament is always a toss-up. Really, it’s mostly about match-ups. Duke may have superior talent, but they may not have a favorable match-up against certain teams; hence, an early exit. If this were the 38-0 Cats of a couple of years ago, being placed in a region like this might be more concerning to me. With this team and the somewhat lower expectations, I’ll take it. It makes victory all the more sweet. Go, Cats!

  32. Catsby80

    Bracket of death? What a tired narrative. Some UK fans will complain about anything. The bracket of death is most certainly Kansas, Duke, and Michigan State and it really isn’t even debatable… Why do some fans think we should get to play eastern missouri technical state 6 times in order to win a championship? You go out and beat Davidson, Arizona, and Virginia and 3 other (presumably) big names, now that’s an accomplishment. One game at a time… keep that defense rolling, ‘cats!

    1. runningunnin.454

      I don’t care whom we play; but having to play almost in Canada is ridiculous. Were there no suitable arenas in Saskatchewan?
      I hope the damn arena is empty.

    2. Sentient Third Eye

      The NCAA gives Kentucky inconvenient locations not to punish Cal but because they know Kentucky fans are the only ones who will travel there. Now, the loaded bracket…that part is to punish Cal.

    3. Catsby80

      Loaded bracket? Give me a break… How is it “loaded”? Our fans complain about any and everything. You wanna win a title? Go out and earn it. This victim card that our fanbase plays incessantly is so overblown.

    4. Catsby80

      Do we have a tough bracket? Yeah sure we do. But we are a 5 seed. We have no right to complain. We should have won more games in the regular season. I’m just happy to see that Duke finally has to earn their way to the final 4.

  33. JPGott2

    Look not identifying that uk’s bracket is always going to be one of the hardest paths to tha championship every year is not identifying the reality that the NCAA is doing that because UK draws the biggest ratings every year.

    Do we get screwed by being miss seeded or having someone like Arizona go from what should have been a 2 seed to the worst 4 seed, miost seasons?…..Yep.

    It is what it is. UNC is the top 2 seed and has 10 losses with one being at home to Wofford. Shouldn’t a quadrant 3 loss hurt seeding? The reason all this stings is that the tourney is all about match ups. UK more than not has to go through the 2011/2014 roads more often than not. While UNC has a 1seed that lost to Nova by a combined 40.

    Sigh. Ratings/$$$$$ will always muck up our bracket.

    1. Sentient Third Eye

      The big problem with seeding is that the NCAA will not define a set criteria for making selections and stick with it year after year. Every year they conveniently change the criteria in a way that ignores our strengths. Why is it that this is the year when Strength of Schedule and finishing wll gets ignored? I wonder if it would have been that way if we had a #100 SOS and lost our last five?

  34. Sentient Third Eye

    UK’s bracket is objectively loaded, there is no doubt. I would even go as far as to say that whoever survives between Kentucky, Virginia and Arizona is going to take the title, because Kentucky’s second round game is an elite-eight-level matchup (again) and Virginia against either UK or Arizona is a final-four-level matchup. Those three are the hottest three teams in the country right now.

    1. JPGott2

      Agree.

  35. luke_emberton

    Not scared of Sean Miller terrible coach in March let’s go Cats

  36. bankerbh

    Seems that UK is in one of the tougher brackets again this year no thanks to the Selection Committee. IMO I think they would have had an easier path to the FF in the same region had they been ranked a 6 seed instead. Although they are coming together as of late, the conference losses and losing to Kansas and UCLA really hurt their seeding and makes the path more difficult. Gotta figure out the Selection Committee’s game and adjust accordingly. In the end, winning cures all.

  37. M.T.Pockets

    careful there, nick. you might piss B.T.A. off daring to say we got a tough draw.