Sidelines with John Clay

Suddenly, NCAA South Region opens up for Kentucky

UMBC players celebrate a teammate’s basket against Virginia during the team’s 74-54 win in a first-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, March 16, 2018.
UMBC players celebrate a teammate’s basket against Virginia during the team’s 74-54 win in a first-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, March 16, 2018. Associated Press

And just like that, Kentucky is the highest-seeded team in the top half of its regional bracket.

Thursday night it was No. 4 seed Arizona, steamrolled by Buffalo 89-68 in a Round of 64 game of the South Regional at Taco Bell Arena in Boise.

Friday night it was No. 1 seed Virginia, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 when the Cavaliers were absolutely shocked 74-54 by University Maryland, Baltimore County in a Round of 64 game of the South Region in Charlotte.

“The NCAA Tournament has been turned upside down,” said CBS’ Jim Nantz near the end of Virginia’s stunning loss.

So instead of playing the No. 4 seed in the second round, No. 5 seed Kentucky is facing the No. 13 seed Bulls on Saturday at 5:15 p.m. on CBS.

If Kentucky wins Saturday, instead of playing the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in Virginia, Kentucky would play either No. 9 seed Kansas State, which beat Creighton 69-59 on Friday, or No. 16 seed UMBC next Thursday in a Sweet 16 game in Atlanta.

Virginia had gone 31-2 in the regular season. Its losses were by seven at West Virginia and by one in overtime at Virginia Tech. It won both the ACC regular season and the ACC Tournament. Remember, the ACC got nine teams into the NCAA Tournament.

Virginia did find out after the ACC tourney that star freshman De’Andre Hunter would miss the NCAA Tournament with a broken wrist.

UMBC is coached by Ryan Odom, son of former Wake Forest and South Carolina coach Dave Odom, who was a longtime assistant under Terry Holland at Virginia. The Retrievers, now 25-10, entered the game ranked No. 188 by kenpom.

You play them one game at a time, of course. And John Calipari’s team has a tough task on Saturday against the MAC champions who ran roughshod over a talented Arizona on Thursday.

“If I were on their team I’d feel very confident, too,” said Calipari on Friday of the Bulls. “The way they played, I watched about six tapes of them, and they remind me of my UMass teams. Hard-nosed, tough, swagger, chip on their shoulder. I’m a high-major player, and they are. And my UMass teams went to, I don’t know, four or five Sweet 16s, a couple of Elite Eights, a Final Four, I believe. Some of my people will check those numbers, but I believe it is.

“And that’s what I see in them. The ability to score the ball, they score 85 points a game. They play fast. But they’re tough defensively. They’re not afraid to mix it up and be physical. And they’ve got players that come off the bench and give them a jolt defensively. They’ve got those kind of players that are positionless. You play them, and you say he’s their 4. He’s not their 4. He’s like a 2, 3 playing as a 4.”

Still, the South Region looks a lot different now than we thought it would look after Selection Sunday.

NCAA Tournament schedule for Saturday

Saturday, March 17

  • 12:10 - Alabama vs. Villanova (CBS)
  • 2:40 - Rhode Island vs. Duke (CBS)
  • 5:15 - Buffalo vs. Kentucky (CBS)
  • 6:10 - Loyola-Chicago vs. Tennessee (TNT)
  • 7:10 - Seton Hall vs. Kansas (TBS)
  • 7:45 - Ohio State vs. Gonzaga (CBS)
  • 8:40 - Florida vs. Texas Tech (TNT)
  • 9:40 - Houston vs. Michigan (TBS)
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