UK Men's Basketball

Lunardi: SEC Tournament unlikely to impact UK’s NCAA seed

Plenty of team gear awaited University of Kentucky fans in St. Louis on Thursday. The Wildcats begin play at the Scottrade Center on Friday afternoon.
Plenty of team gear awaited University of Kentucky fans in St. Louis on Thursday. The Wildcats begin play at the Scottrade Center on Friday afternoon. aslitz@herald-leader.com

As ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi sees it, there’s not much chance of the Southeastern Conference Tournament significantly affecting Kentucky’s seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t think in their case it’s going to be that huge of a deal,” Lunardi said Thursday. “Short of winning the SEC Tournament, they’re not in a great position to really improve their standing.

“I also don’t think they’re at any real risk to drop very far.”

Kentucky, which opens SEC Tournament play Friday afternoon against Georgia, is a six-seed in the NCAA Tournament, Lunardi said.

“I have them as the best ‘six’ right now,” he said. “And Florida as the weakest ‘five,’ right now, based on head-to-head between the two teams.”

Lunardi repeated the question when asked what it would take for Kentucky to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

“Do I think they’re going to make a deep run?” he said. “Uh . . . could they play in the second week? Could they be in the Sweet 16? Yes.

“But I think that’s it, though.”

Lunardi had a similar opinion about Florida. The Gators are settled as a five- or six-seed, he said.

“I think I’m a little higher on the Gators than some others,” Lunardi said. “I see them slotted behind Kentucky by a lot of people. I’m just not seeing that. And certainly, the head-to-head sweep (by Florida) might have something to do with my thinking there.

Georgia tired?

Kentucky will be facing a team that’s playing its third game inside less than 48 hours. Georgia beat Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, then beat Missouri on Thursday afternoon. The game against UK on Friday is scheduled to start about 2:30 p.m. CST.

Georgia Coach Mark Fox downplayed fatigue as a factor.

“I think our team should hopefully recover today,” he said. “(Playing Vanderbilt on Wednesday) wasn’t a very physical game at all. I thought we were very fresh today. I don’t think today was something that will drain us too much. We came into the tournament very fresh.”

Cal on Georgia

UK Coach John Calipari spoke highly of Georgia.

“They’re good . . . ,” he said. “You saw what they did to Vanderbilt. And now you see what they did to Missouri. And Missouri, they told me, had the building. So it was basically a road game.

“I just hit Mark (Fox) and told him, ‘You are coaching your brains out.’ I have great respect for him. The game we played against him in our place, when I watched the tape, we should have got beat. I mean, they had us beat.”

Knowledge is good

Senior Yante Maten played in his 126th college game. Experience helps, he said.

“I know the game pretty well now, especially in the SEC,” he said after leading Georgia past Missouri 62-60. “I definitely know my game and a lot of plays that the other team runs. That kind of gives me a little bit of an edge.”

Life lesson?

Fox called timeout after Georgia’s first basket Thursday, which reduced a deficit to 10-2.

“I’ll tell you what, here’s what I told my team,” he said. “In life and in basketball, when the going gets tough, some people run for the hills, and other people try and climb them.”

Georgia succeeded in climbing its hill against Missouri.

Slow the pace?

Conventional wisdom says the way to play Kentucky is to control the tempo and make it a half-court game. But Fox was not willing to commit to that strategy.

“I’m not sure we’ll play that way,” he said. “A couple years ago, we tried to play really fast, went to the platoon system and tried to just play super fast and get easy shots because their defense is so good. I’m not sure what we’ll do.”

Coach thanks fans

Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin thanked fans for showing up and making it seem like a home game against Georgia.

“I think Mizzou fans are as good as anybody in the country when they support like that,” he said, “and I truly believe that.”

Quote of the day

Michael Porter Jr., acknowledging having to wrestle with a defeat in his return:

“We beat Georgia when I didn’t play,” he said of a 68-56 Missouri victory on Jan. 10. “And we lost to them when I did. So that’s what’s hard for me right now.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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