After the first game of the season, every Kentucky fan was left with so many questions and no answers. Kentucky went on to win a few games then lost a heartbreaker to Seton Hall. The games felt slow and Kentucky appeared out of sync. It felt like the players were just out there to go through their motions until their name was called at the NBA draft. This squad seems different than the last couple of Kentucky teams.
When the first NET ranking (the NCAA’s new evaluation tool that replaced the RPI) came out early in the season, Kentucky was ranked 61 right behind Liberty. This was a wake-up call for both the fans and the team. The team had to grind out every game and struggled to get wins. They had to play as a team and go on a run to turn their season around, and they did just that.
When conference play started every Kentucky fan was perplexed again following a two-point loss at Alabama in the Southeastern Conference opener. But after that, Kentucky went on a run, winning 10 straight including big-time wins against Kansas, Auburn and Mississippi State, teams that were all ranked when Kentucky played them.
During this run is when the Wildcats found themselves defensively and able to start playing as a team. A dominating run against top-tier teams, led to higher hopes. The loss to LSU at the buzzer did not hurt the ranking much but it did take some confidence away from the fans because it was such a polarizing ending.
The real question was how the team would bounce back, but they answered that question emphatically. The whole season took a shift when Tennessee, the nation’s No. 1 team, and was overwhelmed by the Wildcats.
This game put Kentucky in position for high seeds in both the SEC and the NCAA tournaments. The downside was senior forward Reid Travis suffered a sprained knee that sidelined him until just recently. Even with his absence, the Wildcats won four of their last five heading into post-season play.
Despite the nonconference losses to Duke and Seton Hall, Kentucky appears in good shape of earning at worst a No. 2 seed in the bracket heading into Selection Sunday. The Wildcats were at No. 5 in the final NET rankings for the regular season that included a good strength of schedule and several Quadrant 1 victories.
The bracket projections have Kentucky as either the No. 1 seed in the South Region or the No. 2 seed in the West Region. The fans obviously would prefer the former to the latter. Where Kentucky is seeded and placed obviously depends on how it finishes the weekend in their game versus Tennessee today and a potential matchup with Auburn in the SEC championship game tomorrow.
If the Wildcats are assigned to the West Region, the No. 1 seed there would likely be Gonzaga, which lost in the West Coast Conference tournament final. Theoretically, the Zags would be the “fourth” No. 1 seed which would mean the NCAA committee considers Kentucky as the top No. 2 seed.
No matter where the Wildcats go, no doubt the Big Blue Nation will travel and be loud and proud. The choices appear to be: Close to home as a No. 1 seed or a long trek to follow Kentucky as a No. 2 seed.