If you’ve been paying attention in recent weeks, you would have noticed I’m down on the University of Kentucky‘s hopes for a NCAA tournament at-large bid. After giving an interview to my friend James Pennington of Kentucky Sports Radio earlier this week, where I expressed those sentiments, I was provided with some information making the case for UK’s tourney hopes. While I’m still not sold, and the conference tournaments haven’t gone as well as UK could have hoped, here’s the case for including the Cats in the tournament:
- UK ended the regular season with the No. 29 RBI. Only three teams with an RPI less than 30 have been left out of the NCAA tournament since 2007.
- One of those teams was fellow Southeastern Conference school Auburn in 2009 (No. 28), but the Tigers were the 10th ranked team in the SEC.
- UK played the seventh toughest schedule in the country.
- The Cats have 9 wins over the RPI top 15.
- Kentucky has 16 wins over the RPI top 50, which was eighth most in the country at the end of the regular season.
- The ninth-place SEC team has received an at-large bid in two of the last four seasons.
Points against UK:
- No matter how you spin it, losing two-of-three to last-place Georgia in the final series of the season when the Cats had a chance to control their own destiny is just ugly.
- While the Cats have faced a plethora of injuries in their starting rotation, which is fully healthy now, it’s not like those pitchers have performed very well when healthy.
- UK will get no bonus points for losing 2009 first-round pick James Paxton. Paxton never played for this team and certainly won’t suit up in the NCAA tournament, so UK without Paxton is what it is.
- Southern Mississippi won the Conference USA tournament, taking away one at-large bid. Unfavorable outcomes in the Missouri Valley, Southland and the Atlantic Sun tournaments could take away other at-large positions. If St. Johns wins the Big East tournament today over UCONN, that’s one more bid off the board.
Kendall Rogers of Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com had UK in his last NCAA projection before the conference tournaments, but he picked the Cats as the third-to-last team in the field. The conference tournaments simply haven’t gone as well as UK hoped, so selection Monday will be anything but comfortable for coach Gary Henderson and his team. The good news is unlike some conference tournament teams, UK hasn’t done anything this week to hurt its chances.