An up-close look at the East Region — which includes No. 4 seed Kentucky:
A roll call of rivals
To earn its fifth Final Four trip in six seasons, Kentucky (26-8) will have to navigate a region bracket stacked with rivals and/or neighbors.
▪ No. 1 seed North Carolina (28-6) enters the Big Dance off an impressive march through the ACC Tournament. Roy Williams’ Tar Heels are powered by big man Brice Johnson (16.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg). Carolina is one of the few programs to have an all-time edge on UK (23-14), but in the John Calipari era, UK has won four of six, including a 76-69 victory in the 2011 NCAA Tournament East Region finals.
▪ No. 2 seed Xavier (27-5). Kentucky and Xavier are hardly rivals, having not played since 1969, but the two schools are close. Their campuses are separated by 87.8 miles. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the Wildcats and Musketeers did play frequently. UK dominated, having won 37 of 39 meetings. UK and Xavier have never met in the NCAA Tournament.
▪ No. 3 seed West Virginia (26-7) would be spoiling for retribution of Kentucky’s 78-39 demolition of the Mountaineers in last season’s round of 16 if UK and WVU were to meet in this season’s round of eight. “Press Virginia” is forcing 18.1 turnovers a game and has nine players averaging from 4.5 to 14.1 points a game. As Bob Huggins joked after the Big 12 Tournament, UK and WVU have become common Big Dance partners: the schools have met in the NCAAs in 2010, 2011 and last season. UK is 2-1 in those games.
▪ No. 5 seed Indiana (25-7) helped cool Tom Crean’s very warm coaching seat by winning the Big Ten regular season championship. A point-guard matchup between IU standout Yogi Ferrell (17 ppg and 5.5 assists) and UK star Tyler Ulis in the second round would be a must-see game. Kentucky leads the all-time series with Indiana 32-24 and has won 17 of the last 22 meetings, including a 102-90 victory in the 2012 NCAA round of 16. That was the last meeting between the two schools, whose long-running border rivalry ended amidst controversy over whether or not to continue the series by playing at neutral sites or on home courts.
▪ No. 6 seed Notre Dame (21-11). Last season’s 68-66 UK thriller over Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish in the round of eight was as intense an NCAA Tournament game as you will see. Notre Dame is not at that level this season, but does return guards Demetrius Jackson (15.5 ppg) and Steve Vasturia (11.8) and big man Zach Auguste (14.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg) from that team. All-time, Kentucky leads the series with the Fighting Irish 43-19 and has won 12 of the last 14.
▪ No. 7 Wisconsin spoiled UK’s bid for a perfect season in last season’s Final Four (as if anyone needs to be reminded of that). The Cats and the Badgers have faced each other in the past two Final Fours, going 1-1. Bo Ryan stepped down mid-season as the Badgers’ head man, turning the program over to long-time assistant Greg Gard. Forward Nigel Hayes (16.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3 assists) and guard Bronson Koenig (13.4 ppg) were major parts of the team that broke UK hearts last season. Kentucky leads the all-time series with Wisconsin 4-2.
▪ Ex-Perry County Central standout Jaysean Paige comes off the bench for West Virginia, yet the 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior leads the Mountaineers in scoring (14.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg). The U.S. Basketball Writers Assocation even voted Paige to its All-District II team. (James “Beetle” Bolden, the former Covington Holmes star, is redshirting at West Virginia this season after he tore the ACL and sprained the MCL in his right knee in September).
▪ Once a standout at Eastern High School in Louisville, Xavier’s Remy Abell (6.1 ppg, 1.5 assists) has started all 32 games for Coach Chris Mack’s Musketeers. Abell began his college career at Indiana and had six points against Kentucky in IU’s loss to the Cats in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Abell did not play in “the Christian Watford Game,” IU’s upset of UK in Bloomington on Watford’s last second-shot earlier in the 2011-12 season.
▪ Ex-Wayne County star Peyton Woods is a true freshman reserve for No. 12 seed Chattanooga. On a veteran roster, the 6-3 Woods played in 18 games and averaged 2.8 points.
Scouting the Seawolves
Three things to know about Kentucky’s first-round opponent, No. 13 seed Stony Brook (26-6):
1.) This is the New York school’s first-ever trip to the men’s NCAA Tournament. A year ago, the Seawolves had their hearts broken when they were beaten on a last-second three-pointer in the finals of the America East Tournament.
2.) Stony Brook’s star player, 6-8, 260-pound senior Jameel Warney, had 43 points to lead the Seawolves past Vermont 80-74 in this season’s America East Championship. On the season, Warney is averaging 19.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and shooting 63.7 percent from the field.
3.) In November, Stony Brook went to Nashville and took Vanderbilt to overtime before falling 79-72. Two days later, the Seawolves traveled up I-65 and lost to Western Kentucky in Bowling Green 67-66.