ATLANTA — Kentucky will have to beat No. 1 Florida in Sunday's championship game to significantly improve its NCAA Tournament seed, ESPN "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi said Wednesday.
When asked on a teleconference how Kentucky could help itself, Lunardi said, "Kentucky could best help itself by starting its season over. And I don't mean to be snarky.
"Last time I looked they were 1– 7 against the top 50. And they can only really play one team that can help them and that's Florida. And they haven't really shown the ability to compete with Florida."
Florida became only the fourth team since World War II to twice beat Kentucky by double-digit margins in the same season. The last team to do it was Florida's national championship team of 2005-06.
This led Lunardi to tab Kentucky as a No. 6 or 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"Short of beating Florida in the final, that's where they're going to stay," he said. "And the real risk for UK in this tournament is having a loss to somebody below them and actually falling into the 7, 8 range, which is actually more what their profile would suggest.
"So, no, I don't think they're likely to help themselves. And they're more likely in fact to go the other way."
Lunardi labeled Kentucky as "ordinary" in the context of an elite program. "You take the name off the jersey and this team has been really ordinary, at least by Kentucky standards," he said.
Lunardi suggested UK's national title team of 2011-12 was the exception that proved the difficulty of sustaining a national contender with freshmen each season.
"I have all the respect in the world for Cal trying to do that and doing it so unbelievably well two years ago," Lunardi said of UK Coach John Calipari. "... So maybe this whole idea of building a new team every year with all-stars and win the national championship is a little harder than they thought."
The chair of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman, said the ideal bracketing would place all teams close to home.
"We want to make it as easy as possible for the fans to follow their teams as deeply into the tournament as we can," he said.
Wellman noted that the better-seeded teams get a higher priority on close-to-campus sites.
When asked about ticket sales being a factor in placing teams at sites, Wellman said, "We believe this year is going to be an attractive tournament and the tickets will eventually be sold out. We're very encouraged by the ticket sales that have occurred thus far."
Does it matter?
Calipari has questioned whether the SEC does itself any good by playing its conference tournament championship game in late afternoon on Selection Sunday. A title game on, say, Saturday would give the Selection Committee more time to reward the winner and, perhaps, a Cinderella finalist that lost.
Wellman said the Committee has time to judge the result.
"There have been a number of years where there have been four or five brackets active very late in the game, whether it be the SEC championship or other reasons," he said. "But the committee will be well– prepared for any possibility late Sunday afternoon."
That Nebraska is perceived as a lock for an NCAA Tournament bid and Georgia a team needing more victories irks SEC coaches.
Georgia's 18-12 record is similar to Nebraska's 19-11. Georgia's pre-conference struggles (7-5) are similar to Nebraska's (8-4).
Yet, Lunardi scoffed at Georgia as an NCAA Tournament team during a teleconference a few weeks ago.
On Wednesday, he said of Nebraska, "I think the only way they're even in jeopardy now is if they end up facing Purdue on Friday, and then lose that game to a 12 seed. They've never won an NCAA game and it seems to me they are in excellent position."
This will be the final SEC Tournament in the Georgia Dome, which is scheduled to be replaced with a new stadium. Reflecting on past SEC Tournaments, Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said, "You come in here and it's like 38,000 people watching basketball in SEC country."
Of UK fans flocking here, Anderson said, "No one rivaled their fan support until the Razorbacks got in there."