Selection Sunday 2021 is officially one week away. Typically, this time is spent researching the locations of games for the tournament so a flight/hotel could be booked quickly. In order to keep the cliche, this has been anything but a typical year.
On Thursday, the Kentucky Wildcats will open up the SEC Tournament against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. A team that they opened SEC play against with a thrilling overtime victory in Starkville.
At that time, there was still some hope surrounding the Big Blue Nation. Sure, they entered with an abysmal 1-6 record, but there was still a thought that there was plenty of time to turn things around.
Now, the only mentality is survival. The path is simple. Win or go home.
Similar to the NCAA Tournament, the 8/9 matchup is one with a lot of intrigue. We have seen teams from that seed range upset #1 seeds multiple times. How should Kentucky fans feel about this seeding? Well, like usual, you get a little bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Since the SEC Tournament was restarted in 1980, the 8/9 seed matchup has been used 18 times. From 1990-2011, division seedings were used.
In those 18 games, the #8 seed has a 12-6 record. Since divisions were eliminated prior to the 2011-12 season, the #8 seed has a 6-2 record.
Going further, the winner of the 8/9 matchup has upset the #1 seed in consecutive seasons. In 2019, Florida defeated Arkansas before upsetting #1 LSU and then lost to the eventual champion Auburn.
In 2018, the #9 seeded Alabama beat #8 Texas A&M and #1 Auburn before getting blown out by Kentucky in the semifinals.
A team from the #8 seed has won the tournament. In 1985, the year after graduating Charles Barkley, the Auburn Tigers had each of their games decided by eight points or less en route to a conference championship.
Kentucky has never been a part of the aforementioned game. Only twice have they been in a similar position. Both of those previous times turned out to be the final SEC game coached by each coach.
We take you to 2007, where a Tubby Smith-led team took down Alabama in the W5/E4 game before losing to the #1 Mississippi State in the next round.
Just two years later, in the same game, Billy Gillispie’s Cats beat Ole Miss in the first round before LSU picked up a win in the second round.
A coincidence? Probably so.
Ah, yes. The ugly. Remember how the winner of the 8/9 game has upset with the #1 seed in back-to-back years? Well, that is the rarity.
When #9 Alabama beat Auburn in 2018, they became the first team from that game to win in the second round since the 1985 Auburn team. That was a stretch of 10 straight losses.
Before that? It was four straight losses. Only 16.7% of the time has the team won that game against the #1 seed and only one time after, in 1985, did they win their semifinal game.
The good, the bad, and the ugly for the 8/9 matchup can bring a multitude of different opinions. In one way, you see that recent success has been positive. At the same time, you see that the result Kentucky needs has only happened once in the modern era.
Will history repeat itself? Or will this season truly end in Nashville?