Barring a total collapse over the final two weeks of the regular season, it’s no longer a matter of whether or not the Kentucky Wildcats will make the 2023 NCAA Tournament. It’s now a question of where UK will be seeded in March Madness.
The last several days proved to be decisive in the Cats’ quest for postseason play. At the beginning of last week, Kentucky was coming off two embarrassing losses with a 1-7 record in Quad 1 games and an overall NCAA Tournament résumé that put the Wildcats on the wrong side of the bubble, according to some projections.
Now, UK is safely in the Big Dance, according to those same bracket experts.
The Cats won at Mississippi State last Wednesday night and beat Tennessee — the No. 3 team in the NET ratings — by double digits in Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon. With those two victories and the ascent of Texas A&M — a team Kentucky defeated last month — into the top 30 of the NET ratings, the Cats start this week with a 4-7 mark in Quad 1 games and a profile that moves them a good distance from the bubble.
The Brackettville projection website placed Kentucky as a 7 seed in its update Monday morning. That bracket puts the Cats in Denver for the first week of the tournament, with a game against 10-seeded Oklahoma State in the first round, then a possible matchup with 2-seeded Arizona in the round of 32. Bracketville projects UK in the Las Vegas Regional.
Of course, the details of where and who Kentucky might play will change up until Selection Sunday. The important matter of the moment for these Cats is that their play over the past week has dramatically changed their postseason outlook.
Bracketville, for instance, had Kentucky as one of the last four teams in the tournament field at this time last week, a spot that would have put them in one of the “First Four” games in Dayton on the first Tuesday of NCAA Tournament play.
At the start of last week, bracketology projections from ESPN and BracketWAG.com had the Wildcats out of the tournament altogether.
On Monday morning, BracketWAG.com had Kentucky as a 10 seed and safely out of that “First Four” range, with seven at-large teams behind UK in the tournament field. ESPN doesn’t fully update its board until Tuesday morning, but lead bracketologist Joe Lunardi tweeted a bubble update Sunday afternoon that didn’t include the Cats at all, meaning he has them safely in the field, with at least eight at-large teams ranked behind Kentucky. Also on Sunday, CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm wrote that one more victory would pull UK off the bubble completely.
The Cats have two big chances this week.
First up is Florida in Gainesville on Wednesday night. This game will go down as another Quad 1 opportunity, and the Gators’ star player, Colin Castleton, is expected to miss the rest of the season with a broken hand. UK defeated Florida 72-67 in Rupp Arena earlier this month, though Castleton had a big game (25 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three blocks) and held Oscar Tshiebwe to just four points on 14 shots.
On Saturday afternoon, Kentucky will host Auburn in Rupp, and that game currently qualifies as another Quad 1 chance. The Tigers start the week ranked No. 30 in the NET, and home games against opponents rated 1-30 count as Quad 1s. (If Auburn drops just one spot by Selection Sunday, that’ll be a Quad 2 game.)
Auburn has lost six of its last eight games after starting the season 16-3 and 6-1 in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers host Mississippi on Wednesday night.
Kentucky (18-9, 9-5 SEC, No. 35 in NET ratings) will play Vanderbilt at home and then go to Arkansas during the final week of the regular season.
UK freshman Chris Livingston was asked after Saturday’s game if he and his teammates pay attention to NCAA Tournament projections. That question was answered with an emphatic, “No,” but Livingston clearly knows the only way to ensure the Cats won’t be on the bubble.
“To be honest, I don’t really know how it works,” he said. “We just gotta win. Just trying to win as much as possible. I don’t really know like — they’re talking about Quad 1s and things like that? I don’t really know what that means. We’re just trying to win.”
New AP Top 25 rankings
Kentucky received 12 points in the new Associated Press Top 25 poll Monday, making the Wildcats the 30th team in the overall voting. UK had not received more than three points in any poll since Jan. 2, and the Cats haven’t been ranked in the poll since Dec. 26. Two wins this week could put Kentucky back in that picture.
Alabama’s loss to Tennessee last week made the Crimson Tide’s stay at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll a short one. Bama fell to No. 2 in Monday’s update, though the Tide still received seven first-place votes.
Houston (25-2) is now No. 1 for the third time this season, and the Cougars have not been ranked lower than No. 5 for the entire 2022-23 campaign. Houston received 48 of 62 first-place votes.
Rounding out the new top five: No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Kansas (with seven first-place votes), No. 4 UCLA and No. 5 Purdue.
Tennessee dropped just one spot from No. 10 to No. 11 following the 66-54 loss to Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon. Texas A&M (20-7, 12-2 SEC) entered the rankings at No. 25, the only other SEC team in the top 25.
The four teams in the “others receiving votes” category ahead of Kentucky are North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Oral Roberts and Maryland. The Wildcats started the season with the No. 4 ranking.
Kentucky at Florida
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 18-9 (9-5 SEC), Florida 14-13 (7-7)
Series: Kentucky leads 108-41
Last meeting: Kentucky won 72-67 on Feb. 4, 2023, in Lexington
This tale was initially posted February 20, 2023, 12:13 PM.
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