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Cats turn focus to selection Sunday after tough loss to Tennessee in SEC tournament semi-final

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky won’t know its seeding for the NCAA Tournament until Sunday night but John Calipari isn’t making any early predictions regarding a possible No. 1 seed.

“I don’t know — I mean, there’s a bunch of teams that would say it,” he said following an 82-78 loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals Saturday. “I’d say we’re pretty good. It’s not if we’re a 1 or 2, it’s who is the other team? I have an idea who it will be.”

Also in the conversation for top seeds are Gonzaga, North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia. Kentucky and  Tennessee also are in the mix. Regardless, Calipari wants the pairings to be fair when the tournament field is released Sunday.

“If you’re telling me we’re the No. 1 two seed, we should play the lowest of the 1 seeds — that’s all I’m saying,” he said. “If you’re saying we’re the second, we should play the third of the 1 seeds. Maybe it won’t happen that way. We’ll see.

Kentucky coach John Calipari and the Wildcats will find out their seeding placement for the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. Kentucky could be one of four top seeds when the field is announced. (Photo by Tammie Brown, Kentucky Today)

“I say that, and before you even look at that team, you have to play three games. Every one of them are hard. There are some teams right now that they want to say mid-majors. You don’t want to be playing them. It happened last year.”

Prior to the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the Wildcats were projected as one of four top seeds, but an 82-78 setback to Tennessee in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday may have changed the team’s course in the upcoming Big Dance.

Tennessee took two of three games from the Wildcats this season, including a 19-point win in Knoxville earlier this month. Despite losing two in a row and four of the last six to Tennessee, Kentucky forward PJ Washington isn’t concerned about the team’s mental state of mind going into the second and final leg of the postseason.

“We play next weekend, so we’re fine,” Washington said. “We knew it was a hard-fought game. Both teams fought really well. Down the stretch, we made some mistakes. They capitalized on us. We play next weekend, we’re going to get it right.”

It’s not certain if the Volunteers are in the conversation for a top seed. Tennessee plays Auburn in the tournament finals Sunday in Nashville. The league could possibly get seven teams in the field.

“When I used to say us getting seven, eight teams in the NCAA tournament, people used to laugh at me,” Calipari said. “We were getting two and three. Two, I think, a couple of times maybe. But the league top to bottom (is strong). … there were no easy games in this league. Every game was a war.

“That’s why I would expect in the NCAA tournament that there will be some teams in this league that are going to make a good run. I hope we’re one of them. I don’t know. But my feeling is that’s what will happen.”

Regardless of what transpires in less than 24 hours, Kentucky’s players aren’t concerned about seed or placement.

“I don’t think we’re too much worried about it,” Kentucky guard Tyler Herro said. “We have to play anybody anywhere so wherever we go, we have to compete.”

Although leaving Nashville a day earlier than his last three times in Music City during March, Calipari said it will give his team more time to prepare for the NCAA Tournament.

“The hard thing about this tournament, if we had won the game, my comment to my team now is, ‘If you’re going to make me coach, you’re going to play in this finals, we’re winning it,”’ Calipari said. “We’re not going to lose and have to play, then have to play Thursday. Now we’re done. We’ll drive home and get ready for the tournament. I believe we’ll be in, do you think so?”

The Wildcats are definitely in the field and the players are anxious for the future.

“We’ve got some big games coming up,” Kentucky senior Reid Travis said. “We’re excited for that. We will use this as a learning experience and go from there.“

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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