The Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team will travel to the coming SEC Tournament knowing it must win the championship to make the NCAA tourney.
Having dug a massive hole by starting the season 5-13, John Calipari’s Wildcats, now 8-14, 7-8 SEC, have no hope of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
It is “win the SEC tourney or bust” for the Cats.
After last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament was canceled after only two games (won by Arkansas and Georgia) due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event is slated to return March 10-14 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
The last time UK went to an SEC tourney without an NCAA Tournament bid assured was in 2012-13.
It did not go well.
The Cats were routed by Vanderbilt, 64-48, in their initial game of the 2013 SEC Tournament and wound up losing to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.
This year’s SEC Tournament is slated to be a 13-team affair. Auburn has self-imposed a postseason ban on its men’s basketball program as a result of alleged NCAA rules violations uncovered during the FBI investigation of corruption in college hoops.
If the SEC tourney started today, this is how things would shape up for Kentucky and the other 12 participating schools:
The top four seeds: 1. Alabama (14-2 SEC); 2. Arkansas (11-4); 3. Florida (9-5); 4. LSU (9-6).
Remaining seeds: 5. Tennessee (9-7); 6. Mississippi (8-8); 7. Missouri (7-7); 8. Kentucky (7-8); 9. Mississippi State (7-9); 10. Georgia (7-10); 11. South Carolina (4-10); 12. Texas A&M (2-6); 13. Vanderbilt (3-11).
Tiebreaker notes: Head-to-head is the first tiebreaker, record vs. the No. 1 seed is the second.
▪ Mississippi has the edge over Missouri for the No. 6 seed by virtue of having gone 2-0 vs. the Tigers head-to-head.
Kentucky’s opening game if the tournament started today: The No. 8 Wildcats would face No. 9 Mississippi State in the first game of the second round on Thursday, March 11.
UK’s history vs. potential opening-game opponent: Kentucky leads the all-time series with Mississippi State 92-18.
The Wildcats’ 78-73 double-overtime victory over the Bulldogs on Jan. 2 was UK’s 15th straight victory over MSU.
The Wildcats’ path through their bracket: If Kentucky beat Mississippi State, it would face No. 1-seed Alabama in the first quarterfinal on Friday, March 12.
Also on the Wildcats’ side of the bracket as things stand now would be No. 4 LSU, No. 5 Tennessee, No. 12 Texas A&M and No. 13 Vanderbilt.
Winning four games to win the SEC Tournament: As an eight seed, Kentucky would have to win four games to claim the tourney title.
Since the SEC Tournament was revived in 1979, teams required to win four games have won the championship five times:
▪ 1985 Auburn
▪ 2000 Arkansas
▪ 2008 Georgia
▪ 2009 Mississippi State
▪ 2019 Auburn
SEC Tournament records of current coaches (ranked by number of wins):
John Calipari, Kentucky, 23-4; Bruce Pearl, Auburn, Tennessee, 13-10 (7-4 at Auburn since 2014-15; 6-6 at Tennessee 2005-06 through 2010-11); Rick Barnes, Tennessee, 6-4; Frank Martin, South Carolina, 5-7;
Ben Howland, Mississippi State, 3-4; Mike White, Florida, 3-4; Cuonzo Martin, Missouri, Tennessee, 3-5 (1-2 at Missouri since 2017-18; 2-3 at Tennessee from 2011-12 through 2013-14);
Eric Musselman, Arkansas, 1-0; Tom Crean, Georgia, 1-1; Buzz Williams, Texas A&M, 1-1; 11. Nate Oats, Alabama, 0-0; Kermit Davis, Mississippi, 0-2; Jerry Stackhouse, Vanderbilt, 0-2; Will Wade, LSU, 0-2.
Current SEC standings
Current NET rankings for SEC teams:
(Through games of Feb. 27)
79. Mississippi State
112. South Carolina
141. Texas A&M
Kentucky’s SEC Tournament history
All-time SEC Tournament record: 134-26.
All-time SEC Tournament coaching records (ranked by number of wins): Adolph Rupp 57-6, John Calipari 23-4, Tubby Smith 20-5, Rick Pitino 17-1, Joe B. Hall 10-6, Eddie Sutton 6-2, Billy Gillispie 1-2.
Titles won: 31.
Titles won by coach: Adolph Rupp 13, John Calipari 6, Rick Pitino 5, Tubby Smith 5, Joe B. Hall 1, Eddie Sutton 1 — *.
* — On the court, Eddie Sutton’s UK teams won two SEC Tournaments (1986 and 1988). However, Kentucky’s 1988 SEC Tournament title was subsequently vacated due to NCAA rules violations.
First UK title won: 1933.
Most recent UK title won: 2018.