With at least a share of the SEC regular season championship in hand and the No. 1 seed in next week’s tournament clinched, you might think Kentucky has little to play for when the Cats hit the court in College Station on Saturday to play Texas A&M.
Then again, there’s seeding. There’s always seeding.
Three weeks ago, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament selection committee held its first-ever public preview show to give the public large a look at what it believed to be, on Feb. 11, the nation’s top 16 seeds, in order, 1-16.
Kentucky checked in at No. 12 overall and a three-seed in the Midwest Region. Later that day, after UK had beaten Alabama in Tuscaloosa, John Calipari was asked about the preview seed of his team. “Put it in permanent marker,” said the coach, as if he’d be happy to take his chances with a three seed right then and there.
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That No. 3 wasn’t placed in a permanent marker, of course. The committee took great pains to assure observers that a lot could change between then and Selection Sunday a week from this Sunday.
So what has changed? At least so far?
Here’s a look at how the teams in front of Kentucky in the preview seedings have fared since that announcement on CBS:
No. 1 Villanova: The defending national champs have gone 4-1, losing a home game to Butler 74-66. Jay Wright’s team is 27-3 overall and 14-3 in the Big East. Given the strength of the conference, it’s a good bet that despite the Butler loss, the Wildcats haven’t dipped much. They may no longer be the overall No. 1 seed, but they’re probably still a solid No. 1 seed.
No. 2 Kansas: The Jayhawks are now atop the AP college basketball rankings, thanks to the Villanova loss and a perfect KU record since Feb. 11. Bill Self’s team rallied to beat West Virginia in overtime 84-80 at Allen Fieldhouse and knocked off Baylor 67-65 in Waco. Kansas plays at Oklahoma State on Saturday.
No. 3 Baylor: The Bears have surely fallen off the one-seed line thanks to a 3-3 stretch. They lost at Texas Tech 84-78, at Kansas 67-65 and at Iowa State 72-69. They did beat West Virginia 71-62 last Monday. Scott Drews’c lub closes the regular season at Texas on Saturday. Despite the difficulties down the stretch, Its strength of schedule may be enough to bag a No. 2 seed.
No. 4 Gonzaga: The Zags were all set to clinch a perfect regular season and cement a No. 1 seed before last Satuday’s 79-71 home loss to BYU. Now, the men of Mark Few can’t afford a slip-up in the West Coast Conference Tournament if they want to stay on that top line.
No. 5 North Carolina: The Tar Heels were all set to wrap their arms around a No. 1 seed before completely losing their offensive mojo in a 53-43 loss at Virginia on Monday. Before that, Roy Williams was thrilled with wins over Louisville and Virginia at home. Now 4-1 since Feb. 11, UNC gets arch-rival Duke at home Saturday night. (Funny how ESPN never mentions it.)
No. 6 Florida State: The Seminoles have been slip-sliding away since their No. 2 seed designation in the preview show. Leonard Hamilton’s team is 2-3 since then with losses at Notre Dame 84-72; at Pittsburgh 80-66 and at Duke 75-70. At least the Noles fought back at Durham, but they are still unlikely to be in the top 8.
No. 7 Louisville: Wednesday’s 88-81 loss at Wake Forest probably ended any outside chance the Cards had at a No. 1 seed. Rick Pitino’s team is 4-2 since the preview show with losses at Chapel Hill to North Carolina and Winston-Salem to the Deacons. They have beaten Syracuse twice in the last two weeks but have a tough regular season finale Saturday against Notre Dame at 2 p.m. on CBS immediately following UK-Texas A&M.
No. 8 Oregon: The Ducks are on a roll having won five straight since the committee’s sneak-peek. Three of those were road games. They are 26-4 overall and 15-2 in the Pac-12.
No. 9 Arizona: The Wildcats are 4-1 since Feb. 11, but the one loss was at home to UCLA 77-72 last Saturday. That could be problematic as far as Sean Miller’s team pulling down a No. 2 seed.
No. 10 Virginia: True, the Wahoos doused normally-explosive North Carolina last Monday on the way to a 53-43 win over the visiting Tar Heels, but one game can’t erase Virginia’s slide. Tony Bennett’s team is 2-4 since the preview show thanks to a four-game losing streak that included Virginia Tech (overtime), Duke, North Carolina and Miami (overtime). At this point, the Cavaliers look more like a No. 4 seed than a No. 2.
No. 11 Florida: That 88-66 win over Kentucky on Feb. 4 was fresh in the minds of the committee members when they made their Feb. 11 reveal. The Gators are 4-1 since, losing the rematch in Lexington 76-66. They also lost starting center John Egbunu to a torn ACL. They were No. 12 in the AP poll before Wednesday’s win over Arkansas and they have a trip to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Still a good shot at a No. 3 seed.
No. 12 Kentucky: The Cats are 6-0 since the show with wins over Alabama, LSU, Georgia (road), Missouri (road), Florida and Vanderbilt. As previously mentioned, they finish up with A&M in a game that won’t help much if UK wins and could hurt a lot as far as seedings goes if the Cats lose.
You’d have to think that Baylor, Florida State and Virginia are almost certain to suffer drops from the Feb. 11 spots. Whether all three, plus one more, slide behind the Cats, giving UK a No. 2 seed, is another question.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has already answered it in the affirmative. His latest Bracketology effort has Villanova (East), North Carolina (South), Gonzaga (West) and Kansas (Midwest) as No. 1 seeds. He has Baylor (East), Kentucky (South), Oregon (West) and Louisville (Midwest) as No. 2s.
The wild card is UCLA. The committee had the Bruins ranked a surprisingly low 15th, behind Butler at No. 13 and West Virginia at No. 14. But wins over Oregon in Pauley Paivilion and Arizona in Tucson have catapulted Lonzo Ball and Company to No. 3 in the AP poll. If UCLA wins a packed Pac-12 Tournament, you’d think it would have to be a No. 2 seed and, with another Gonzaga slip, claim No. 1 in the West.
UCLA beat Ketnucky, of course. So did Kansas. And Louisville. That’s not going to help Kentucky’s cause. Still, if the Cats win out -- which would run their win steak to 11 -- there’s an excellent chance they can grab a spot on that No. 2 line.
AP Top 25 schedule for Saturday
No. 1 Kansas is at Oklahoma State
No. 2 Villanova is at Georgetown
No. 3 UCLA plays host to Washington State
No. 4 Gonzaga plays Pacific
No. 5 North Carolina plays host to No. 17 Duke
No. 6 Oregon is at Oregon State
No. 7 Arizona is at Arizona State
No. 8 Louisville plays host to No. 19 Notre Dame
No. 9 Kentucky is at Texas A&M
No. 11 Baylor is at Texas
No. 12 Florida is at Vanderbilt
No. 13 Butler plays host to Seton Hall
No. 14 SMU plays host to Memphis
No. 15 Florida State plays host to No. 25 Miami
No. 23 Virginia plays host to Pittsburgh