With the NCAA Tournament Selection Show just three days away, feelings around the Bluegrass are beginning to shift. While portions of Bowling Green and Louisville can breathe easy due to the secure state of their teams, the remaining population of Kentucky must hold their breath for the SEC Tournament. Tournament status has been questionable for Kentucky all season long, but a much needed victory over Florida last Saturday did wonders for the Cats’ resume, however, work remains to be done. At this critical point in the season, wins are not only necessary to boost tournament seeding, but also to assure a tournament spot. For John Calipari and his band of players, the focus is certainly on the “one-game-at-a-time” mindset, but as fans, we’re allowed to speculate about the future.
Late last night, our own Tyler Thompson laid out some SEC Tournament outcomes for Kentucky and suggested what kind of implications those situations could bring about. This was a fascinating subject to me for a number of reasons, but mainly because of what these outcomes could mean for UK’s NCAA hopes. Given this, I’ve laid out some highly hypothetical situations which could arise if Kentucky were to go either 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, or 3-0 during the SEC’s annual showcase.
Best Case: It’s difficult to find a positive that would arise out of this situation. After all, we’re a bubble team that needs another win to boost our profile. However, a close loss to Arkansas wouldn’t be the worst possible thing to happen in an 0-1 situation (a loss to 14-16 Vanderbilt would be, though). For Kentucky to make the tournament in this instance, many other bubble teams across the country would have to turn in awful performances early in their conference tournaments. If this arose, the Cats would be fortunate to be a 12-seed in the play-in game.
Worst Case: A loss to 14-16 Vanderbilt would effectively end Kentucky’s quest for an NCAA Tournament bid. Arkansas and Vanderbilt may be similar in scoring margin type rating systems, but in the eyes of the Tournament committee, losing to the Commodores would squash all hope of a tournament bid. The RPI may not be a very effective rating system, but unfortunately, Kentucky must boost that in order to feel secure. A loss to Vanderbilt would damage that rating beyond repair.
Best Case: In this situation, Kentucky would be virtually assured a Tournament bid. A win over Arkansas would propel our record to 22-10, which is among the best of bubble teams. In the next round, a close loss to Missouri wouldn’t be the end of the world as they are a tournament team with a solid RPI. Also, if Kentucky were to play Missouri, that would mean current bubble team, Ole Miss, had been all but eliminated from the NCAA field. It’d be difficult to predict a seed in this situation, but it’d likely be a 12-seed.
Worst Case: A win over Vanderbilt paired with a loss to Andy Kennedy’s Ole Miss Rebels would be far from ideal in this situation. Not only would Kentucky have a relatively weak first round win, but a loss to current bubble hopeful, Ole Miss, would be detrimental in our NCAA hopes. This, alongside other bubble teams performing well, would be worrisome in the quest for a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Best Case: You’d be safe in assuming that with two wins, regardless of opponent, Kentucky is safely in the tournament field. As correctly suggested by Tyler last night, we would be talking about seeding at this point. In this instance, Kentucky would most likely be bumped up from a 12-seed to an 11-seed. In my mind, this is absolutely ideal as it would give the Cats hope of advancing in the tournament. Some current 6-seed projections by various Bracketologists include Butler, Colorado State, and Creighton. In predictive rating systems, most teams in this instance would be similarly rated to Kentucky and have fatal flaws that can be exploited.
Worst Case: It’s difficult envisioning a worst case scenario in this instance. First, Kentucky would be safely in the field, second, we’d likely receive a decent seed (relative to the season). However, the worst case scenario in this circumstance would be getting matched up with a tough team in the first round of the tournament. A squad with tenacious guard play like VCU, or a team with a solid post presence like Oklahoma State could present serious problems for the Cats. Though these teams would likely be favored, Kentucky would have a legitimate shot of pulling an upset.
Best Case: Naturally, this is the ideal scenario for Kentucky entering the NCAA Tournament. Three straight wins over (most likely) strong competition would boost our seeding in ways that were unimaginable just one week ago. This outcome could potentially earn Kentucky a 10-seed for next week’s madness. While this would give Kentucky a very winnable
first second round game, it would most likely set up a second third round contest with a 2-seed.
Worst Case: (I really felt ridiculous writing this last paragraph as a conference title could never be negative.) Winning an SEC Championship after a tumultuous season would in no way be a “worst case” scenario. However, a perceived “screw job” by the seeding committee would qualify as that. Much like 2011’s conference championship squad, Kentucky may be placed in the most difficult region, inspiring many to think the season is all but over. Maybe the Cats earn a 10-seed, only to be placed with a 2-seed who was a borderline 1-seed. However, I feel as though most fans would relish the opportunity of potentially beating a squad like Indiana.