Going into Tuesday night’s rematch with Tennessee, Kentucky (17-6) has lost four of its last nine games and has four rugged road games remaining of which the youthful Wildcats may well lose all four.
Louisville (16-7) has lost three of its last four contests and faces upcoming games against North Carolina, at Duke and against Virginia.
Yet even as gloom and doom about the March Madness chances of Cats and Cards prevails among the BBN and the L1C4 set, there’s a viable reason not to write off the chances of Kentucky or Louisville making an NCAA Tournament run this year.
That reason can be found on the No. 1 seed line of ESPN “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA tourney projections.
According to Lunardi, if the NCAA tourney tipped today, the No. 1 seeds would be Villanova, Virginia, Purdue and Xavier.
Based on their prior NCAA Tournament track records, that quartet — should they actually emerge as 2018’s four top seeds — should leave fans of other potential tournament teams with ample hope.
Virginia has not made the Final Four since 1984. Under Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers have advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA tourney only twice in five tries and reached the regional finals only once. In the 2016 round of eight, Virginia, also as a No. 1 seed, blew a 16-point second-half lead to fall to No. 10 seed Syracuse.
Purdue has not made it to the national semifinals since 1980. With Matt Painter as head coach, the Boilermakers are 10-9 in NCAA Tournament contests and have never won more than two games in a Big Dance.
Xavier has never made it to the Final Four. In seven NCAA Tournaments under Chris Mack, the Musketeers have been eliminated on the first weekend three times, and bowed out in the round of 16 three times. Last year’s Xavier NCAA tourney effort was Mack’s best, ending with a round-of-eight defeat to Gonzaga.
Even Villanova, with the most impressive recent NCAA tourney resume of the four, has been shaky in March Madness.
Jay Wright’s Wildcats made a Final Four run in 2009 and won it all in 2016. However, the national title two years ago was an outlier to Villanova’s recent form. ’Nova has exited the NCAA tourney on the first weekend in six of its seven most recent appearances.
Actually, there’s plenty of reason to doubt the teams on Lunardi’s No. 2-seed line, too.
Auburn has not even made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003.
Since Mike Krzyzewski followed John Calipari into the one-and-done rat race, Duke has been wildly inconsistent in March. The Blue Devils have exited in the first weekend of the NCAA tourney three times since 2012 — but won it all in 2015.
Kansas under Bill Self has been the epitome of an unreliable NCAA tourney team. The Jayhawks have an NCAA title (2008) and another Final Four trip (2012) but have also filled March with mid-major magic by losing tourney games to Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa, VCU and Wichita State.
Even Michigan State, which Tom Izzo has led to seven Final Fours and the 2000 NCAA title, carries reasons for doubt in 2018. Off-the-court controversy is swirling around the MSU program with Michigan State’s handling of alleged sexual assault accusations against some athletes under scrutiny.
In recent years, Izzo’s March mojo has seemed on the wane. The Spartans have been bounced from the NCAA tourney in the first weekend the past two seasons.
Disclaimer: A year ago, Gonzaga would have been on this list of programs meriting NCAA Tournament doubt based on its track record. None of Mark Few’s first 17 NCAA tourney trips as Bulldogs head coach ended in the Final Four.
Last season, Gonzaga and Few broke through, reaching the NCAA finals.
A horse can exceed its past performances.
Still, the fact that so many of this season’s projected NCAA Tournament top seeds have such spotty March Madness histories is a reason for hope for fans of less-accomplished teams that 1.) are apt to make the Big Dance; 2.) have rosters with some talent.
That’s why, as inconsistent as Kentucky and Louisville have been in 2017-18, backers of the Cats and Cards should not give up all hope that their teams can make a run in March.