On Sunday, Kentucky did what was expected and won the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and now, the Wildcats join one of eight SEC teams in the postseason. More on all that, and what lies ahead.
It was hard to picture anyone stopping Kentucky from wining three games in Nashville, and nobody came really close. The Wildcats met their collective achievement with a collective yawn, having student managers cut down the nets at Bridgestone Arena following Sunday’s 78-63 victory over Arkansas. But let’s not kid ourselves, win No. 34 is a big deal, as the ‘Cats enter next week’s NCAA Tournament as just the fourth undefeated team entering that event in the last 39 years. (Ironically, UK beat one of those teams, Wichita State, in last year’s NCAAs.)
As for Sunday, Kentucky’s Willie-Cauley Stein (15 points, 10 rebounds), who’s perhaps the league’s best defensive player, got the best of Bobby Portis, who’s the league’s best offensive player (he had 13 and two). Perhaps most notably, the ‘Cats shot 51 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from 3; that’s scary for the other 67 teams in the NCAAs, because shooting is far and away Kentucky’s weakness (relatively speaking).
The Big Dance
Kentucky, of course, got the NCAA’s overall No. 1 seed. The ‘Cats should breeze into the Sweet 16, where, if you want to get a little creative, it could get an interesting match-up in Notre Dame, which can spread the floor and shoot 3s as well as anyone in the country. Most seem to think that the ‘Cats got the toughest regional (Midwest) in America, which could be true since Kansas is tested (it played the country’s toughest schedule), Notre Dame just won the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and a lot of people felt Maryland (4-seed) deserved a spot better. Still, it’s awfully hard to imagine Kentucky not cutting down the nets in Cleveland.
Arkansas got a 5-seed, where it will play a Wofford squad that beat N.C. State in Raleigh earlier this season. The Terriers should be able to spread the floor and shoot some 3s with success, which could give Arkansas some issues. However, Wofford doesn’t have the height or physical ability to contend with Portis, and that’ll make it a lot tougher for the Terriers to pull an upset.
The committee gave Georgia some grace for an injury-filled season by giving it a 10-seed. However, it got no favors by having to face Michigan State, which is coached by one of the best tournament coaches in NCAA history in Tom Izzo. Neither team is especially big inside but both are physical. The Bulldogs really need guard Kenny Gaines’s foot to get better, and coach Mark Fox got a bit of a break with a Friday game.
One of the surprises of Selection Sunday was seeing LSU get a 9-seed; evidently bad losses (and the Tigers had a bunch of them) weren’t given the weight of the Tigers’ good wins. LSU gets N.C. State, which beat a Duke team that had even better big men that the Tiger tandem of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. The Wolfpack are coached by former Alabama coach Mark Gottried and also led by former Crimson Tide star Trevor Lacey, but the Tigers will also have to face one of their former players in Ralston Turner. That makes an interesting match-up even more so.
Ole Miss was one of the last four teams selected for the tournament, which means that the Rebels get an intriguing “play-in” game with BYU. This could be one of the more fun games to watch in the first week, because both teams love to push the pace. BYU has two of America’s best offensive players in Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth (the latter tied an NCAA career record for career triple-doubles when he had six this season alone) while the Rebels’ Stefan Moody and Jarvis Summers haven’t met many shots they didn’t like.
Three for the NIT
Vanderbilt was surprised with an invitation to the NIT, but just because it was surprised doesn’t mean it wasn’t deserved; the Commodores lost just one of their 13 games by double digits, and the average loss came by 5.5 points. Vanderbilt can flat-out shoot from the outside and that, combined with center Damian Jones, will be a real challenge for St. Mary’s, even if the Gaels are on their home floor. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the young Commodores get hot and win a few games, even if they’re on the road.
Alabama made headlines on Sunday as it dismissed coach Anthony Grant after six seasons. Between that news and the fact that the Crimson Tide are down two starters, winning against Illinois at home will be a tall order. ‘Bama will place its hopes on riding guard Levi Randolph for as many minutes as it can, and the fact that young center Jimmie Taylor showed flashes of advancement in the last few weeks.
Texas A&M needs to get All-SEC guard Danuel House healthy; without him, A&M was upset by Auburn in Nashville. The Aggies get a good draw with one of the NIT’s weaker teams in Montana, though it’s no automatic win as the Grizzlies shoot the ball well.