Random NCAA Tournament notes:
▪ We all know it’s dangerous to look ahead. Play it one game at a time. South Region No. 2 seed Kentucky must first take care of No. 15 Northern Kentucky on Friday night. No. 10 seed Wichita State would have to upset — not really an upset — No. 7 seed Dayton. If both happen, however, Sunday’s second-round matchup would be a grudge match.
You remember 2014. Wichita State sure does. That’s when the undefeated Shockers, the Midwest Region’s No. 1 seed, lost to Kentucky in the round of 32. As the No. 8 seed, UK had the chip on its shoulder. The Cats believed they were much better than their seeding, then went out and proved it in an epic 78-76 win.
This year, the shoe would be on the other foot. Wichita State was seriously disrespected. Despite being ranked No. 19 in the AP poll and No. 9 in Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, Gregg Marshall’s team was handed a No. 10 seed. Strength of schedule was the supposed reason. Jeff Sagarin ranked the Shockers’ schedule strength at No. 120.
So Wichita State is ready to grind an ax. Of course, we’re not to that point yet.
▪ Despite 15 losses, how did Vanderbilt merit inclusion in the NCAA field? The Commodores’ non-conference schedule included seven teams also picked for the tournament. Bryce Drew’s team played Marquette, Bucknell, Butler, Minnesota, Middle Tennessee, Dayton and Iowa State.
By comparison, Kentucky played four NCAA Tournament teams in the non-conference. To be sure, it was a fearsome foursome — Michigan State, UCLA, North Carolina and Louisville.
▪ Kentucky and Louisville are two of 10 programs to have played in a bowl game and placed both its men’s and women’s teams in the NCAA Tournament. The 10: Baylor, Florida State, Kansas State, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, Troy and West Virginia.
▪ Congrats to former UK marketing director Debbie Antonelli who this weekend will be the first female to work as a game analyst for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament since 1995. Antonelli launched her broadcasting career doing UK volleyball games with Dick Gabriel on WKYT.
▪ A day after being snubbed by the selection committee, Illinois State Coach Dan Muller took to Twitter to advertise for home-and-home series with Power Five teams. ISU went 27-6 overall and 17-1in the Missouri Valley under the former Vanderbilt assistant but couldn’t coax an NCAA tourney invitation.
▪ Nate Silver’s 538 site gives Kentucky a 30 percent chance of reaching the Final Four, a 17 percent chance of reaching the title game and an 8 percent chance of winning it all. It gives Villanova a 15 percent chance of taking home the trophy, followed by Gonzaga at 14, Kansas at 10 and then UK. It gives North Carolina a 7 percent chance.
▪ Four first-round upsets (by seed): No. 10 Marquette will beat No. 7 South Carolina in the East. No. 10 Wichita State will beat No. 7 Dayton and No. 12 Middle Tennessee will beat No. 5 Minnesota in the South. No. 11 Xavier will beat No. 6 Maryland in the West.
▪ Four sleepers: No. 6 seed SMU will do better than expected in the East. Despite everyone being down on the Big Ten, No. 4 Purdue has a shot of upsetting Kansas in a Midwest semifinal. No. 12 Middle Tennessee could disrupt North Carolina’s relatively easy path to the South finals. (Then MTSU Coach Kermit Davis might leave Murfreesboro for LSU.) Leonard Hamilton and No. 3 Florida State could surprise everyone in the West.
▪ My Final Four picks: During preparations for the TaxSlayer Bowl with Kentucky, Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson said something that has stuck with me: “Physical superiority cancels all theory.”
With that in mind, I’m picking Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona. I have Duke beating North Carolina in the championship game.
Kentucky vs. Northern Kentucky
When: About 9:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis
TV: CBS with Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson
Radio: UK Network (WLAP-AM 630 and WBUL-FM 98.1) with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt