Kentucky Wildcats: Will the SEC Help Kentucky's NCAA Tournament Chances?

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Kentucky Wildcats:  Will the SEC Help Kentucky's NCAA Tournament Chances?
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Head coach, John Calipari, and the Kentucky coaching staff are hoping to lead the Wildcats to another NCAA Tournament berth.

After their two most recent victories—a 72-68 overtime victory over Texas A&M and a 77-55 blowout victory over South Carolina—the Kentucky Wildcats have improved their overall record to a solid 16-6. The Wildcats have won four straight games, all SEC matchups, and are currently in second place in the SEC standings with a 7-2 record. However, the Wildcats currently still find themselves outside of the Top 25 college basketball rankings.

Despite their early struggles, the Kentucky Wildcats are managing to improve their current standings and NCAA Tournament chances. While the Wildcats’ tournament outlook is slightly brighter than it was a few weeks ago, they are by no means a lock to make the tournament. With a bad performance in any of the remaining games, Kentucky could find their tournament hopes on shaky ground once again.

The Wildcats are currently in second place in the SEC standings but the SEC is widely regarded as a fairly weak basketball conference. The SEC currently ranks eighth in the nation in overall conference power rating with a 105.5 rating. The Big Ten leads the nation with a 111.1 rating. The Big East, Mountain West, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, and Atlantic 10 also currently rank ahead of the SEC in the power rating rankings. As a conference, the SEC has a combined 3-23 record against teams in the Top 25. In other words, Kentucky’s tournament chances are not helped much by play in the Southeastern Conference.

Kentucky’s remaining schedule consists of only two teams (Florida and Missouri) currently ranked in the Top 25. The Wildcats play the second-ranked Florida Gators twice and face the Missouri Tigers once before the end of the season. Those three games should increase Kentucky’s strength of schedule rating, which is currently 63rd in the nation. By contrast, Kentucky has six remaining games versus unranked SEC opponents. A loss to any of those six teams would be classified as a “bad loss” and would further jeopardize Kentucky’s tournament chances.

The best chance Kentucky has to solidify a tournament berth would be to at least earn a split in their two games versus Florida, beat Missouri, and win all six of their games versus unranked SEC opponents. That would give the Wildcats at least a tie for the SEC lead heading into the SEC Tournament. A trip to the SEC Tournament title game would, in my opinion, give Kentucky a berth in this year’s NCAA Tournament. However, should Kentucky falter in any way, they would be looking at being a proverbial “bubble team” whose NCAA Tournament fate would fall into the hands of the selection committee.

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