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The Path to a Kentucky No. 1 Seed Isn’t as Complicated As Most Think

It’s amazing how quickly the conversation in college basketball can change.

Shortly after Kentucky’s win over Tennessee on Saturday, I pitched our editors here a piece on the overall, No. 1 seed picture. Obviously most folks reading here are Kentucky fans and I actually thought that the Wildcats had a better shot at a No. 1 seed than most were projected.

We agreed that we would go ahead and wait until after Tuesday night’s games to be safe. Assuming Kentucky took care of business against Missouri and Tennessee handled Vanderbilt, it would be safe to run Wednesday morning. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a bit actually. In no particular order, here is what has changed in the race for the four No. 1 seeds, just since late Tuesday night:

— Reid Travis left Kentucky’s game with a knee injury – sending Big Blue Nation into a frenzy. Thankfully it was just a sprain and Travis will hopefully be back in just a few weeks. Still, with several big games ahead and Travis likely on the sidelines, Kentucky’s path to a No. 1 seed isn’t nearly as clear as it looked when I began this article Tuesday morning. I still think they get one, but this is a major road block.

— Tennessee looked terrible in a win against the SEC’s worst team, Vanderbilt. Ultimately it had no bearing on the Vols pursuit of a No. 1 seed, but with Tennessee facing five straight games against NCAA Tournament caliber teams to close the regular season, it feels fair to wonder if the Vols can finish as strongly as they started.

— Nevada lost on the road at San Diego State on Wednesday night. While the Wolf Pack were a long-shot to get a No. 1, this officially eliminated them from any such talk.

— Zion Williamson went down with a knee injury – flipping the sports world on its head Thursday. Zion is OK, and we can put to rest talking of him “Shutting it Down” for now. At the same time, Duke took a loss no one saw coming, and now they aren’t nearly as much of a lock for a No. 1 as they were before the Carolina game.

— Duke’s unexpected loss resulted in an unexpected North Carolina win – and now the Tar Heels have a realistic, albeit small shot at a No. 1 seed. It would take a minor miracle, but North Carolina does in fact have life in the No. 1 seed debate.

And again, that’s only what happened since Tuesday afternoon when I officially finished the first draft of the article below – can you imagine how much will change in the final two weeks of the regular season?

Ultimately however, the gist of the article didn’t change, and I still believe Kentucky is in prime position to get a No. 1 seed.

Let’s go through all the scenarios and all the teams involved, to give you a clearer picture of where we are, and how the Wildcats fit in.


REID TRAVIS UPDATE: MRI confirms knee sprain but no further damage; expected to miss two weeks

We finally have some Reid Travis news: Travis is expected to miss at least two weeks after spraining his right knee during the Missouri game Tuesday night. After being stranded in Missouri for far too long, the team finally made it back to Lexington Wednesday afternoon. Once home, an MRI confirmed the sprain. No other damage to the knee was detected.

The news was sent out on behalf of the UK Athletics department. The release says Travis is expected to miss “at least two weeks.” Losing Travis for the next few games is tough for Kentucky, but having him back before the SEC Tournament (and, presumably, the NCAA Tournament) will be huge.

“I just feel so good that it was more of a sprain than anything else because you just get worried about that stuff when you see someone go down,” John Calipari said. “We are going to be very conservative with this, so he may be out a couple weeks. We hope he will be ready for around the conference tournament or maybe even a little bit before, but I’m happy for Reid that we’re going to get him back.”

Prayers for a quick and easy recovery for Travis.


Calipari expects Reid Travis to miss at least a week, possibly two; awaiting MRI results

In a taped segment on his call-in show, John Calipari gave us an update on Reid Travis’ knee. The segment was taped before the team left Columbia this afternoon, so the MRI scan had not been done; however, Cal said he expects Reid to miss at least a week to ten days, possibly two weeks.

“I would say, at the least, he’s going to be out a week to ten days, maybe two weeks,” Cal said.

“He’s not going to have the scan done until we get back, so it won’t be done until 5 p.m. He was with me this morning and he’s — you just don’t know with this stuff. And I just say we’ll pray and let’s hope it’s good news and he’s out a couple weeks, but we don’t know. I feel bad for him. He’s worked so hard and having so much fun and having such an impact that fate intervenes sometimes. In this case, it was like a freak thing.”

Regardless of how long Reid is out, Calipari says he needs his big guys to step up, starting with PJ Washington. 

“Not only that, he’s giving up — I told PJ, now you’ve got to be that guy. We have no one else to go roughhouse. You have to be that guy. And that’s what’s going to make it hard for PJ but let’s just hope he has to hold the fort down for a couple of weeks and we get Reid back and go.

“Now, the other thing is, one guy’s misery is another guy’s opportunity. So now you have Nick [Richards] and EJ [Montgomery], now you have that opportunity to get extended minutes. Now, any clutter you were hearing — you should be playing more, etc. — alright, now there it is. I always tell them, you don’t listen to all this flattery or where they’re trying to blame other people. When you hear that, you have to put the phone down. You have to stop. You have to get off the internet. Anybody that’s flattering you vs. being truthful, holding you accountable, it’s poison because at some point, you have to step in the ring. You either can or you can’t. I think because we coach every player like they’re starters, I think EJ and Nick, this is their opportunity and I have great confidence in those two.”

Ten days would mean Reid is back for the Tennessee game, two weeks for Senior Day vs. Florida. Everyone cross your fingers.

© Denny Medley | USATSI

Kentucky won, but all anyone cares about is Reid Travis’ knee

© Denny Medley | USATSI

For about 90 minutes, this felt like a typical mid-February game vs. a bad SEC team. Kentucky was up by 15 and Missouri was trying to stay alive by slowing the game down to an excruciating crawl.

That’s when it happened; Keldon Johnson went up for a defensive rebound and fell into Reid Travis on his way down, causing Reid’s right knee to bend inward. Reid immediately fell back in pain, clutching his knee, and when Kentucky called a timeout, limped off the court. From there, he went to the locker room. Ten minutes later, Kentucky announced that Reid had a sprained right knee and would not return. Afterwards, John Calipari didn’t have any specifics, simply saying Reid will get an MRI and hopefully be okay, and if he’s not, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards will have to step up in his place.

Kentucky went on to win the game 66-58, but no one will remember the final score. They’ll remember Reid’s injury, and if it’s severe, how poorly the Cats played after it. Naturally, part of it was the players adjusting to Reid being out, but they let Mizzou push them around under the basket and on the boards. The Tigers ended up winning the rebounding battle 34-28, 16-6 on the offensive boards. Twelve of Missouri’s offensive rebounds came after Reid exited the game, which would normally send Calipari on a lengthy postgame rant; instead, Cal shouldered part of the blame, admitting that once Reid got hurt, he just wanted to get out of the gym, which led to his team taking possessions down to the shot clock and playing more tentatively than usual. Should Reid be out for an extended amount of time, you have to think they’ll play better than that.

It feels like nothing really matters other than Reid’s knee right now, but let’s roll through some quick hitters about the rest of the game before shutting the book on an ugly night in Columbia.

PJ Washington and Tyler Herro played well

PJ Washington’s streak of 20-point games ended tonight, but he turned in another impressive performance, finishing with 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block in 37 minutes. Fifteen of PJ’s 18 points came in the first half, and there was a stretch before halftime in which it felt like he couldn’t be stopped. PJ’s earned a lot of accolades this week, including Oscar Robertson Player of the Week, so it was good to see him follow it up with another solid night, despite some cramping issues at the very end (did I mention how ugly this game was?).

Tyler Herro also had 18 points, the most he’s scored since the Florida game in Gainesville on February 2. Herro always seems to play better on the road, and tonight, his most impressive work came at the line, where he was a perfect 8-8. In SEC play, Tyler has only missed one free throw, vs. Tennessee on Saturday, an incredible mark that deserves recognition.

Speaking of free throws…

…Kentucky going 19-22 (86 percent) from the charity stripe sure is a silver lining on a stormy night. According to Corey Price, that’s the Cats’ third best free-throw shooting performance in the Calipari era, and their best since the 2015 season. With Mizzou attempting to make it a game in the last five minutes, Kentucky went 10-10 from the free throw line, a promising sign as we get closer to March.

Second half Ashton > First half Ashton

Ashton Hagans did not play well in the first half, not scoring and turning the ball over three times to only one assist. In the second half, he was able to shoot his way out of a funk, scoring 12 points, including three of four threes. Whoulda thunk it? Tellingly, Calipari let Ashton play through his struggles over subbing in Immanuel Quickley, and it worked. Hopefully that confidence will carry over to Saturday, because Ashton will need it vs. Auburn’s guards.

Kentucky can’t leave Columbia tonight

There are few things John Calipari hates more than staying in an opposing team’s town the night after a game, but bad weather will keep the Cats in Columbia tonight. After grumbling about it, Cal said he hopes the team can fly back to Lexington tomorrow.

What is this team without Reid?

I really hope we don’t have to find out, but the question looms on the horizon like the winter storm that’s keeping the Cats in CoMo. The obvious answer is EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards have to step up. Richards had a promising first half, with seven points off 3-3 from the floor and four rebounds, and even started the second half, but quickly got taken out after a mistake. EJ played significantly more minutes in the second half and looked okay, but let Missouri’s bigs push him out of position.

PJ Washington’s play will also be affected. Part of his success in recent weeks is thanks to Reid, who has born the brunt of guarding guys like Grant Williams and clearing out space for PJ under the basket. How will PJ cope if Reid has to be out for a while? I keep coming back to something Kenny Payne said yesterday.

“It doesn’t always show up in the stats, what he means to this program, but I can only say this to you guys: I can’t imagine Reid Travis not on this team.

Me neither. Be okay, Reid’s knee.