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Link: Does UK really need to win Friday to get in the Big Dance?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There is quite a bit of bubble action going on in the Southeastern Conference Tournament this week. Between Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Ole Miss and even Arkansas, there is still a lot to be earned this week at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

ESPN “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi said Wednesday on an ESPN teleconference that UK still needs to win one more game — against the winner of the Arkansas-Vanderbilt winner on Friday — to feel good about its NCAA Tournament chances. I haven’t totally disagreed with that logic, but as I sit here in the hotel room in Nashville passing the time, I came across a Seth Greenberg story that is starting to make me think otherwise.

Greenberg, now an analyst with ESPN, points out several reasons for why Kentucky should make the NCAA Tournament.

For one, Greenberg says that UK has no bad losses. Its lone loss to a team outside the BPI 100 — the BPI is ESPN’s new modified formula of the RPI — was last week to Georgia, which sits at 101 in the BPI, has nine SEC wins and owns two wins over “UK’s fellow bubble brother Tennessee.”

Greenberg also points out that UK was 2-1 against the SEC”s two biggest locks to make the NCAA Tournament — Florida and Missouri — and that both of those wins came without the services of Nerlens Noel.

I’m sure you’ve heard some of those arguments already, but what really has me believing that the Cats may be in the tournament no matter what happens Friday is the breakdown Greenberg does of some other bubble teams UK is supposedly competing against for a spot: South Miss, La Salle, Virginia and Saint Mary’s.

Here is Greenberg’s breakdown of each:

  • Southern Miss is 0-4 against the top 50 squads and 6-2 against the top 100. This, combined with the fact that the Eagles played 23 games against teams outside the top 100, puts USM a notch below Kentucky.
  • La Salle has had an outstanding season highlighted by wins over VCU and Butler, but if you look deeper at their résumé, you’ll see that the composite number of their best wins is 125, compared to Kentucky’s 68. Additionally, the Explorers have a bad loss to Central Connecticut State, which boasts an RPI of 264. Head-to-head, the quality of Kentucky’s best wins combined with La Salle’s bad losses distinguishes the Wildcats as more worthy for an at-large bid.
  • Virginia is one of the more difficult teams to compare Kentucky against. The Cavaliers are an impressive 4-2 against the top 50 and are 8-3 against the top 100, but they have played 20 games against teams above the top 100 and lost seven. It will be interesting to see how the committee evaluates the Cavs’ three losses against CAA teams that have BPI ratings between 134 and 292 that came when Virginia was without its senior point guard Jontel Evans. Remember that without Noel, the Wildcats were still able to defeat BPI number No. 4 Florida and BPI No. 22 Missouri.
  • Saint Mary’s earned its way to the championship game of the West Coast Conference for the fifth consecutive season. The Gaels have 27 wins, including at home against Creighton in Bracket Busters, but there is little more to their résumé. They played 23 games against teams outside the top 100 and are 5-5 versus teams within it. The Gaels had three opportunities to beat Gonzaga, but could not come away with a win. Kentucky has more top 100 wins, more wins against the tournament field and a better strength of schedule.

To read Greenberg’s original piece, click here. You will have to be ESPN Insider to read the full story.