The next time Kentucky plays a basketball game, its opponent will either be a foe UK has faced in past NCAA Tournaments — or the architect of the greatest upset in 21st century American sports.
No. 5 seed UK punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament South Region round of 16 Saturday with a 95-75 victory over No. 13 Buffalo in Taco Bell Arena on the campus of Boise State University.
The Wildcats will next play Thursday in Philips Arena in Atlanta.
UK’s foe in that game will be the winner of Sunday night’s game between No. 9 Kansas State and — for real — No. 16 University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
“We’re ready,” Kentucky forward PJ Washington said. “We can’t wait to see who we are playing.”
Noticeably absent from Kentucky’s side of the South Region bracket in Atlanta will be No. 1 seed Virginia.
The overall top seed in the 2018 men’s NCAA basketball tournament, Coach Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers were stunningly bounced from the Big Dance on Friday night by UMBC in a 74-54 jaw dropper.
As you may have read, going into that game, No. 16 seeds were 0-135 against No. 1s since the men’s tourney expanded to at least 64 teams in 1985.
Thanks to UMBC, No. 16s are now 1-135.
If the Retrievers (25-10) have another miracle in them against Big 12 foe Kansas State (23-11), Kentucky would be facing America’s darling in the round of 16.
Like Buffalo was, UMBC is a smallish, perimeter-oriented team. In the upset of Virginia, UMBC cashed 12 of 24 three-point shots.
Fifth-year senior Jairus Lyles, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound guard who began his career at VCU, hit nine of 11 shots and three of four treys en route to 28 points. In his prior game, Lyles hit a last-second three-pointer that beat favored Vermont in the America East Conference Tournament finals.
In the upset of Virginia, Joe Sherburne, a 6-6 junior forward, added 14 points and hit three of eight treys; Arkel Lamar, a 6-5 sophomore forward, had 12 points and drained two of four three-pointers; and 5-8, 140-pound senior point guard K.J. Maura, a product of San Juan, Puerto Rico, scored 10 points and hit two of three threes while playing all 40 minutes.
UMBC Coach Ryan Odom is the son of ex-South Carolina and Wake Forest head man Dave Odom.
UK and UMBC have never met in men’s basketball. The Retrievers did face a Kentucky team this season, beating Northern Kentucky 76-75 Dec. 17.
If Kentucky faces Kansas State, UK will be meeting a foe it has played nine times before without a loss.
Twice, UK has faced K-State in the NCAA Tournament.
In the 2014 NCAA Tournament round of 64, Kentucky won a grinder, 56-49, over Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats.
Of more import, in the 1951 NCAA championship game, UK bested K-State 68-58.
Weber and No. 9 seed Kansas State advanced to the round of 32 Friday by beating No. 8 Creighton 69-59 in Charlotte.
Weber’s Wildcats won in spite of playing without Dean Wade, KSU’s leading scorer (16.5 ppg) and rebounder (6.3). A 6-10, 228-pound junior, Wade has a foot injury.
The heroes for KSU in the victory started with junior guard Barry Brown, who scored 18 points and, defensively, held Creighton star Marcus Foster to five points.
More improbably, K-State freshman reserve guard Mike McGuirl — who entered the NCAA tourney with a 1.8 ppg scoring average — hit six of 10 shots and scored 17 points.
Whether UMBC continues the magic or K-State brings some order back to what has so far been a crazy South Region, Kentucky will be heavily favored to beat either.
“Whoever is next, we’ve got to step on their necks,” UK guard Quade Green said. “Whoever is next, we’ve got to win that game.”