LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) -The Kentucky Wildcats face a formidable task if they want to get an invite to next week’s NCAA tournament. UK must string together four victories in four days this week at the S.E.C tourney in Nashville.
Ken Pomeroy, famous for his college hoops analytics, lists Kentucky’s chances at 2% to take the league crown ( he has Alabama favored to win the tourney giving the Tide a 28% chance to cut down the nets).
So the Cats are staring at long odds to be the last team standing at the Bridgestone Arena in the Music City. But let’s look at some numbers and past results to get a sense of UK’s chances.
Kentucky will tipoff against Mississippi State in the opener and the Sagarin College Ratings show the Wildcats as about a three point favorite to defeat the Bulldogs for the second time this season.
Back in January in Starkville, Kentucky got by State 78-73 in overtime and the Cats have won 15 in a row against them. All this is at least encouraging for UK’s first-rounder in Nashville.
If Kentucky gets by the Bulldogs, they would then meet up with Alabama. The Tide swept the two games against the Cats during the regular season, winning 85-65 at Rupp and then 70-59 at Tuscaloosa.
UK did play much better in that second meeting versus Bama. The Tide knocked down 24 free throws in that game. So, the Cats would need to step up the defense and keep Alabama off the free throw line. Those Sagarin Ratings make the Tide about a five to six point favorite over the Cats for a Friday showdown, but it’s not like UK would be a double-digit underdog against them. Still, Bama is the main hurdle in the bracket for Kentucky.
If UK can make the S.E.C. semis, they’ll likely face either Tennessee or Florida. The Cats split their games with both the Vols and the Gators and in those UK wins, Kentucky won each handily. The ratings say a third meeting with either Tennessee or Florida would be considered about a tossup.
Barring an upset, S.E.C. two-seed Arkansas looms in the title game against UK or any of the upper bracket teams. UK would only be about a four point underdog in a possible meeting with the Razorbacks.
Late-game execution has been the bugaboo all season for the Wildcats. If Kentucky can clean up the turnovers down the stretch, it’s chances to keep advancing will greatly improve. That could be easier said than done.
Coach Calipari says Terrence Clarke, who’s missed several weeks with any injury, has been given the green light to play. Whether he even sees action, or how many minutes he would play, remains to be seen.
For Kentucky, four wins in four days could be too much to overcome for a team that had just a pair of three-game streaks this season. But should the Cats notch wins in their first two S.E.C. games, the path to the title could get much easier.