Franklin: A Kentucky Fan’s Thoughts on Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament Draw

Franklin: A Kentucky Fan’s Thoughts on Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament Draw article feature image
Credit:

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: John Calipari

  • The other top teams in Kentucky's 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket are: North Carolina, Houston, Kansas and Auburn.
  • Drew Franklin from Kentucky Sports Radio digs in to whether UK fans should be happy or sad with the Wildcats' draw.

For the first time in the John Calipari era of Kentucky basketball, I did not want to smash my television to pieces while watching the unveiling of the NCAA tournament bracket on Selection Sunday. Seemingly every season before this one, I, like all Kentucky basketball fans, felt jobbed by the Wildcats’ draw in the Big Dance.

Calipari always feels slighted this time of the year, too; his Selection Sunday rants have become quite a tradition. One year he joked that the committee would pair Kentucky with the Miami Heat or Golden State Warriors. Another year he said his phone blew up with friends telling him, “They screwed you again.”

“We’ve never had it easy,” he said in 2016, the only year Kentucky failed to get out of the first weekend.

And he is not wrong.

In 2011, the Brandon Knight-led UK team should have been a No. 3 seed, but instead got a No. 4 seed in the same region as 32-2 Ohio State, the best team in the tournament, plus an unwanted rematch with West Virginia, which upset John Wall’s Kentucky team one year prior.

Then there was the “Region of Death” in 2014, when the committee set up a first weekend meeting between undefeated Wichita State and Kentucky, the region’s No. 8 seed. Michigan, Duke and defending champ Louisville were also in that region.

In 2017, the two best teams in the entire field at tournament time were North Carolina and Kentucky. The committee put them in the same region, along with another title contender in 30-4 UCLA, and 30-4 Wichita State as the No. 10 seed. The Cats battled Wichita State until the final possession in the second round, avenged a regular season loss to UCLA in the Sweet 16, and then lost to UNC on a buzzer-beater in the Elite 8 game.

This year, Kentucky will likely have to go through North Carolina once again, one of the two hottest teams in the tournament in my opinion. But it’s not all bad news.

The Cats dodged the hottest team in the tournament and the overwhelming favorite to win it all … Duke.

Nobody wants a piece of Duke, not after Zion Williamson’s Welcome Back Party in the ACC Tournament. Any region away from Duke’s region is a draw Kentucky fans can live with.

It is even sweeter that Duke is on the complete opposite side of the bracket, so Kentucky would not have to see the Blue Devils until the NCAA title game, should both sides make it that far. If it comes to that, it will be tough to shake the nightmares of UK’s 34-point loss to Duke in the season opener back in November; however, Big Blue Nation has five other games to worry about first.

Looking over the Midwest field, I count seven of the top 21 teams in the final NET rankings, which is a lot. Kentucky could see one of them, Wofford, ranked 13th in the NET, as early as the second round. Even if Wofford were to lose its first round game, Kentucky would then get Seton Hall — the same Seton Hall that shot lights out from 3-point range in Madison Square Garden to give Kentucky its second loss of the season back in December.

Revenge will be on UK’s mind, while the Pirates will feel an added sense of confidence, knowing they have already done it once.

And Myles Powell is a bad, bad man.

Moving on to the Sweet 16, either Houston (4th in the NET) or Big 12 tournament champ Iowa State (21st in the NET) will likely be waiting. Houston is a legit national title contender that ranks 13th in defensive efficiency and 22nd in offensive efficiency.

Throw in the fact that Houston beat LSU and Kentucky lost to LSU, and the Cougars aren’t a team UK fans will be thrilled to see in the Sweet 16. Of all the No. 3 seeds, Houston is fourth out of fourth in order of teams Kentucky wanted to see in its third game of the tournament.

Up at the top half of the Midwest bracket, BBN will be pulling hard for an upset of North Carolina (7th in the NET). Kentucky already beat North Carolina once this year, but doing it again will be even harder considering the revenge aspect and how much better UNC played late in the year. And we are only two years removed from Luke Maye knocking the 2017 Kentucky team out of the tournament at the buzzer, so, please, no more Luke Maye run-ins in March.

But for Maye and UNC to get upset, it will probably be Auburn (18th in the NET) or Kansas (20th in the NET) to do it. Kentucky already has two wins over Auburn this season, and they say it is hard to beat any team three times. On top of that, Auburn enters the tournament on fire, riding an eight-game win streak capped off with a 20-point blowout of Tennessee in the SEC Tournament championship.

Like Auburn, Kansas will be hungry for payback vs. the Cats, having lost in Rupp Arena in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in January. If it plays out that way and the two blue bloods meet again, Kansas will get its rematch in its own backyard in Kansas City, the Midwest’s host site.

Kentucky had hoped to play for the Final Four in its own backyard, in Louisville, as the No. 2 seed in the South region. Fans would have flooded the KFC Yum Center for those games, played only 75 miles from Rupp Arena. Unfortunately, the preferred scenario went out the window when Tennessee beat Kentucky in the SEC semifinals and saw the Vols get drilled by Auburn in the title game.

One person connected to the NCAA’s selection process told KSR that Kentucky would have been Virginia’s No. 2 seed in Louisville if Tennessee had finished the job in Nashville, instead it is Tennessee staying close to home as the South’s No. 2 seed. Maybe Kentucky can get payback on the Vols in the Final Four?

However it all plays out, I think Calipari and his fan base have little reason to complain about this year’s tournament draw (for once). It was not the first choice and it is not an easy path by any means, but it also isn’t anywhere near Zion Williamson.

Big Blue Nation’s pre-Selection Sunday prayers were answered.

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