Journey to the Tourney: UK’s March Madness history
Going into this college basketball season, those Kentucky fans who looked ahead to the NCAA Tournament sites probably envisioned a local road to the Final Four for their Wildcats.
Columbus — less than 200 miles north — will be home to games during the first week of the tournament, and Louisville — about 75 miles down the road — will host the South Region at the Yum Center, where UK’s national championship run in 2012 began.
The Cats won’t play in either location.
The NCAA Tournament field was announced Sunday evening, and UK will start things off in Jacksonville, Fla., this week, and — if the Cats win two games there — they’ll play in the Midwest Region in Kansas City, Mo.
Not exactly easy drives for those in the Lexington area.
The Cats were deemed to be the No. 7 overall team in the field, and that means seventh pecking order for the first-week sites. The NCAA Selection Committee places each of the 1-4 seeds (top 16 overall teams) to their nearest geographical location for those opening games, but only two such teams can go to a single site.
The top two teams in the rankings were Duke and Virginia, and they both went to Columbia, S.C., the closest first-round site for each school. North Carolina was next, and the Tar Heels took the first spot in Columbus. Then came Gonzaga, which took the first spot in Salt Lake City.
The committee deemed Tennessee to be the best No. 2 seed, and the Volunteers got the second and final spot in Columbus.
That left Des Moines and Jacksonville — both more than 650 miles away from Lexington — as the next-closest spots for the Cats.
Michigan State was the No. 6 overall team and took the first spot in Des Moines, and then it was Kentucky’s turn. UK ended up getting sent to Jacksonville.
Technically, Des Moines is a little bit closer to Lexington than Jacksonville, but Michigan — the eighth overall team and final No. 2 seed — was given the second Des Moines slot rather than getting sent much farther away to Hartford, Conn. (Michigan will also have to travel all the way to Anaheim, Calif., for its regional games, if the Wolverines make it out of the first two rounds).
So, why didn’t UK get the No. 2 seed in Louisville?
If they had beaten Tennessee on Saturday, the Cats might have been there.
Since Tennessee was the top-ranked No. 2 seed, the Vols got the closest location to Knoxville — and that was Louisville.
Michigan State then got sent to the closest remaining regional site — which happened to be Washington, D.C., where Duke is the No. 1 seed — and that left Kansas City as the closest remaining site for Kentucky.
This year’s Final Four will be played in Minneapolis.