John Calipari was ready with the jokes.
The UK coach, who rarely passes up an opportunity to take a shot at the NCAA Selection Committee, facetiously asked reporters gathered at his home on this Selection Sunday where the Cats would start’s this year’s madness.
The answer was Boise, Idaho.
“Anchorage or Boise?” Calipari quipped. “It is what it is. They’re not going to make it easy for us.”
The UK coach had plenty of time to prepare that one. Going into conference tournament week, there was a very small chance that the Wildcats — widely projected as a No. 5 seed, which is what they got — would end up anywhere other than Boise or San Diego on the tournament’s first weekend.
The reason: the NCAA places the top overall seeds to their nearest first-round location (no matter what region they are assigned to) in descending order, and all of the top seeds in this tournament are from the east and Midwest. As a result, sites such as Nashville, Charlotte, Pittsburgh and Detroit — all relatively easy drives from Lexington — filled up quickly.
That meant Boise and San Diego were the only sites available for the No. 4 seeds, and the No. 5 seeds have to go wherever the 4 seeds are.
Here’s exactly how UK ended up in Boise for Thursday’s game:
Virginia, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, got to pick its first-weekend destination, and the Cavaliers chose the obvious, nearby Charlotte.
After that, Villanova was placed in nearby Pittsburgh, Kansas in nearby Wichita and last No. 1 seed Xavier in Nashville, it’s most convenient option.
North Carolina — the top No. 2 seed — got the final spot in Charlotte, knocking that site from the board. That meant Duke had to go to Pittsburgh, the next-closest site to the Blue Devils. Purdue ended up in Detroit, and Cincinnati took the final spot in Nashville.
The No. 3 seeds were then placed, in order: Michigan State to Detroit, closing out that site; Tennessee to Dallas, the closest available site to the Vols; Michigan to Wichita, and Texas Tech to nearby Dallas.
That left two San Diego spots and two Boise spots for the No. 4 seeds.
Auburn is closer to San Diego than Boise, so the Tigers were shipped to California. San Diego was also deemed the most convenient site for Wichita, so the Shockers also ended up there.
That meant, by default, Gonzaga and Arizona — the final two No. 4 seeds — would be in Boise.
Kentucky was the top-ranked 5 seed, and Boise is closer to Lexington than San Diego, so the Cats are headed to Idaho. That meant matching UK up with either Arizona or Gonzaga.
As the tiebreaker there — an NCAA official explained to the Herald-Leader — the committee looked at how close the regional site would be to the Cats. Arizona’s region is Atlanta, and Gonzaga’s region is Los Angeles.
So Kentucky was put in the South, making for a shorter trip next weekend, if they can survive this one.
Freshman guard Hamidou Diallo said Sunday night that he’s never been to Idaho.
“Never in my life,” Diallo said with a smile. “Never thought I would be going there either.”