Florida vs. Kentucky: Did 'Cats Just Clinch March Madness Bid?
Kentucky picked up its signature win of the season Saturday, coming from behind to beat Florida, 61-57, in Rupp Arena. Now, the big question is whether that was enough to get the Wildcats a March Madness bid.
The win does not guarantee Kentucky a spot in the field of 68. There are a lot of blemishes on Kentucky’s resumé, but the Wildcats figure to have some more opportunities in Nashville at the SEC tournament to impress the selection committee, even if they do not end up winning the SEC title.
Here is a breakdown of what the Florida win did for Kentucky’s NCAA tournament chances.
What the Florida win means
One of the biggest things the selection committee looks for is the ability to beat elite teams. Up until Saturday, Kentucky had not proven it could do that.
There were close calls against Duke and Louisville, but the Wildcats were never able to close the deal against a top-level team. That changed on Saturday with the win over the Gators.
Heading into Saturday, Florida was ranked sixth in the RPI, according to Jerry Palm at CBSSports.com, and the Gators are on their way perhaps a top two seed in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats’ only other win against the RPI top 50 came over No. 29 Missouri on Feb. 23.
For Kentucky’s RPI, the win over Florida means the Wildcats will climb into the top 50, well in the range for teams that have traditionally been at-large selections to the NCAA tournament.
It was also significant that this win came after the season-ending knee injury to Nerlens Noel. The committee is charged with judging Kentucky on its performance since Noel’s knee injury, and the performance against Florida is a good indication that the Wildcats have not taken a significant step back without Noel.
What is still working against Kentucky
While the wins against Florida and Missouri are nice, they are still the only two victories Kentucky has over teams that are virtual locks to be in the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky is now 2-4 against the RPI top 50 and 7-9 against the RPI top 100. Those marks aren’t terrible, but they won’t do much to distinguish Kentucky from the rest of the bubble field.
The Wildcats also need to beef up their resumé outside of Lexington. Kentucky is 5-8 in games played on the road and on neutral courts, and its best win in those scenarios came over Ole Miss, which is not going to impress anyone.
Coming up in Nashville, Kentucky will have some good opportunities to pick up quality wins on a neutral court.
What Kentucky must do In Nashville
How far must Kentucky advance in Nashville to earn a NCAA tournament bid?
Obviously, Kentucky can take all the drama out of Selection Sunday if it goes down to Nashville and wins the SEC tournament. Given how weak the conference is this year and the fan support the Wildcats will have, that is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
But if the Wildcats do not cut down the nets in Nashville, they still could make their way into the field of 68. For that to happen, a couple things would need to occur for Kentucky.
First, the Wildcats will need to make it to the SEC title game. It would be an added bonus if Kentucky could pick up a couple quality victories over fellow bubble teams like Tennessee, Ole Miss, Alabama or Missouri on its way there.
Lastly, Kentucky would need to hope that there aren’t many bid-stealers out there in the other conference tournaments. If some unexpected teams start taking automatic bids around the country, that would be bad news for Kentucky since it would shrink the at-large pool.
The win over Florida did not guarantee Kentucky a spot in the NCAA tournament. However, it was a big step in the right direction in what figures to be a dramatic week for the Wildcats.
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