If you’re a regular reader of this website you know, that late last week, I wrote an article about the prospects of Kentucky finishing in the Top 4 of the SEC regular season standings and getting a double-bye in the SEC Tournament.
At the time, the article seemed like a fun, but largely meaningless exercise. One, the Wildcats were playing well, but still had a trip to Knoxville to play Tennessee where they were projected to be a seven-point underdog. Two, they would have to pass four teams in the standings to get there. And three, we weren’t even sure exactly what the Wildcats’ schedule would be, since it was uncertain if the SEC planned on adding games to the schedule or not.
Again, it just seemed unlikely that everything that needed to happen could or would for Kentucky to push its way into the Top 4 of the standings.
But then a funny thing happened. Well, maybe more appropriately: “SEC basketball during a Covid-19 year” happened. Since I last wrote, not only did Kentucky beat Tennessee (adding not only a win for the Wildcats, but an extra loss to the resume of a team the Wildcats hope to pass) but weird losses have popped up all over the league. Ole Miss got tripped up by Mississippi State on Saturday. Georgia smoked LSU in Athens on Tuesday. Then Ole Miss flipped the script and beat Missouri on Tuesday, meaning that the Rebels both took a loss that helped Kentucky (Mississippi State) and then gave out a loss that helped the Wildcats out as well (beating Missouri).
Oh, and the SEC also added extra games to the final Saturday of the season. And it just so happens that Kentucky adds one of the worst teams in the league (South Carolina), all while four teams that the Wildcats are directly competing with for the double-bye will play each other, when Florida visits Tennessee and LSU visits Missouri.
So yeah, basically in a year where nothing went right for Kentucky from late November until about two weeks ago, all of a sudden, everything is coming up Wildcats.
There are clearly still a lot things that have to happen for the Wildcats to get that double-bye, but it is now absolutely in the cards.
Here is UK’s path:
First, let’s look at the standings
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s go ahead and look at the league standings.
To get the double-bye, Kentucky almost certainly has to win all of its game – so I went ahead and removed everyone below them in the league standings. There’s no way for those schools to pass them if Kentucky wins out.
Either way, here are how the standings look heading into this weekend:
Team SEC Record Games Back Overall Record
Alabama 13-2 – 18-6
Arkansas 10-4 2.5 18-5
LSU 9-5 3.5 14-7
Florida 8-5 4 12-6
Tennessee 9-6 4 16-6
Ole Miss 8-7 5 13-9
Missouri 7-7 5.5 14-7
Kentucky 7-7 5.5 8-13
In terms of “what’s next” let’s start by just removing Alabama and Arkansas right off the top, as teams that Kentucky can conceivably pass. The Wildcats flat out can’t catch the Tide in the standings (and even if they did would lose a tiebreaker) and it’s technically the same for Arkansas. Even if the Wildcats won out and the Hogs lost out, the two teams would be tied and Arkansas would have the tiebreak with a head-to-head win.
So again, let’s forget those teams, and instead focus on the five teams after that – LSU, Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Missouri. Interestingly, thanks to LSU’s loss to Georgia (shout out, Tom Crean!) the Tigers are now on this list as a legitimately “catchable” team for Kentucky. And because the Wildcats beat LSU head-to-head in Rupp Arena, there is actually a crazy possibility that UK could end up as high as No. 3 in the final SEC standings, depending on how things break.
Still, let’s just focus on getting to the top four, and look at all the different scenarios involved, starting with…
As I said last week, there is no reason to focus on other teams, if Kentucky doesn’t first take care of its own business. And that business is pretty simple: To get a double-bye, they will almost certainly need to win their final three games. That schedule is as follows:
Saturday, February 27th: vs. Florida
Tuesday, March 2nd: at Ole Miss
Saturday, March 6th: vs. South Carolina (**scheduled make-up game)
Admittedly, there is probably some quirky, bizarre scenario where the Wildcats can still lose a game and get in the top four, but for right now I’m not even going to take the time to consider.
The first step for Kentucky is to win its final three games of the regular season. Do that, and they finish with a 10-7 record in the SEC, which would be quite an accomplishment in its own right.
Now, who would they need to pass to get into the Top 4? Let’s take a look:
Like last week, this one is pretty easy. These two teams are tied in the SEC standings with three games left. And Kentucky plays at Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
Therefore, the path past the Rebels is pretty linear: Win in Oxford on Tuesday, and if the Wildcats win out, they will permanently pass Ole Miss in the standings.
It won’t be easy though. One, Oxford has been a tough spot for visitors this year (Tennessee and Missouri both took losses there this season). And two, if Kentucky does lose this game, they shouldn’t expect the Rebels to take another loss, since their other two games are against Vanderbilt.
Point being, if the Wildcats want to get that top-four seed, this is an absolute, unequivocal, “must win.”
What Kentucky needs to move ahead of Ole Miss: A head-to-head win on Tuesday
There is good news and bad news when it comes to Missouri.
The bad news is, that although the Wildcats are tied with Missouri in the loss column, if both teams win out, the Tigers would get the nod. They do have a head-to-head win against UK after all.
The good news though, is it really is hard to see the scenario where the Tigers actually do win out. They have been an absolute mess of late, losing four of their past five games. That includes a sweep by Ole Miss and a loss at Georgia. Woof.
They also don’t really have a schedule that gives anyone the confidence that they’ll actually sweep, and stay ahead of Kentucky in the standings, with games at Florida and LSU at home remaining next week. Based on how they’re playing right now, it really is hard to see Mizzou winning both of those games.
Again, part of this involves Kentucky winning out. But if the Wildcats do their part, I expect Missouri will do theirs, losing at least one of its final two games, which would allow UK to move ahead of them in the standings.
What Kentucky needs to move ahead of Missouri: If the Tigers lose one of their final two games and Kentucky wins out, they’ll pass them
While Tennessee is the next team up in the standings, I actually want to skip ahead to Florida. Because although the Gators are ahead of the Vols, UK’s path past the Gators is actually easier to understand.
With three games left in the season, Florida is a game-and-a-half ahead. The saving grace for Kentucky is that they have a head-to-head matchup with the Gators remaining.
Therefore, the first step for Kentucky is to beat Florida at Rupp Arena this weekend. Do that, and they are now just a half game out with two to go. Then, UK would need the Gators to lose at least one more time, whether it was to Missouri next week or at Tennessee to close the season.
Should the Wildcats end up tied with Florida in the loss column, they would then win the tiebreaker based on two separate head-to-head wins against the Gators.
Again, this one is easy: Beat Florida this weekend (duh), then start scoreboard watching next week. Another Gators loss would push Kentucky ahead of them in the standings.
What Kentucky needs to move ahead of Florida: A head-to-head win Saturday and another loss for the Gators
As mentioned above, Tennessee is technically behind Florida in the standings. But because their situation is a bit more fluid, I figured I’d break it down here.
First, the good news for Kentucky: Tennessee kind of stinks right now. They are just 2-2 in their last four, 4-3 in their last seven, and even when they win, the Vols haven’t really played inspired basketball. Their 12 point win at Vanderbilt didn’t exactly right the ship on Wednesday, when you consider that the Commodores were without their two best players (Scottie Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu) and the Vols still struggled.
The bad news however, is that Kentucky still needs a few things to happen to move past Tennessee.
First, they need Tennessee to lose a game. And with only two games left on their schedule instead of three, it’s one fewer chance for UT to take that loss in their final two (at Auburn and vs. Florida).
Secondly, even if they lose one, it would then go to tiebreakers, which doesn’t favor UK. The first tiebreak would be head-to-head games, which would be moot, since the two teams split their two games. Then it would go to how the teams fared against the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament, Alabama. Well, both lost, so that is moot too. Then it would go to how the two teams fared against the No. 2 in the SEC Tournament. As discussed last week, if that team ends up being Arkansas (which is likely) Tennessee would get the tie-break since they beat the Hogs. However, if LSU were to beat Arkansas this weekend, then LSU would be in second place, which would be advantage Kentucky, since the Wildcats beat the Tigers.
Got all that?
I know it’s a little confusing, but the best-case scenario is for Tennessee to lose twice. Otherwise, they may need help from Will Wade’s club.
What Kentucky needs to move ahead of Tennessee: Tennessee to lose twice, or Tennessee to lose and a whole bunch of help in tiebreakers
Speaking of “Will Wade” let’s get to LSU. Because this is where it gets weird. And from Kentucky’s perspective, this is what you need to know about LSU’s final few games: UK needs LSU to be either really good or really bad over the next few weeks. If LSU is really good, that could actually help Kentucky move past some other teams. If LSU is really bad, that could drop the Tigers below UK in the standings.
Let’s start with the really good, and if LSU is “really good,” that would mean they win at Arkansas this weekend, beat Missouri and Vanderbilt as well. One, that would knock Missouri behind Kentucky, which is a positive. But two, if LSU sweeps those three games, they would move into second place in the SEC standings, and Kentucky would then have a tiebreak against Tennessee (assuming Tennessee loses at least one more game).
Now, if LSU is really bad, that’s OK too. Because if LSU were to go 1-2, then they would actually be tied with Kentucky in the standings. And since the Wildcats have a head-to-head win over LSU, they would pass the Tigers. And at that point, it honestly wouldn’t matter what Tennessee did, because Tennessee and Kentucky would both get byes.
In the end, there is still a lot of work to be done, and it starts with Kentucky. They need to win their next three games.
But, if they do, the path to getting a double bye at the SEC Tournament is getting clearer by the day.