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It’s Cats vs. Norse: UK, Northern Kentucky University paired in NCAA tourney first round

By Glenn Osborne
KyForward managing editor

John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, fresh off an SEC tournament championship win over Arkansas, will meet Northern Kentucky University Friday in first-round NCAA tournament play in Indianapolis.

The Norse are making their first appearance in the NCAA tourney in their first year of eligibility.

The No. 8 Wildcats, winners of the SEC regular season and tournament championships, are the No. 2 seed in the region behind North Carolina. UCLA is the No. 3 seed while Butler is the the fourth seed.

Tournament Bracket

Kentucky claimed the SEC tournament title Sunday and will face Northern Kentucky in first-round NCAA play Friday in Indianapolis (Keith Taylor Photo)

Arkansas is the No. 8 seed and will face Seton Hall in first-round play in Greenville, S.C. The Razorbacks would be matched against North Carolina should both advance.

Minnesota, lead by head coach Richard Pitino, is the No. 5 seed in the South and will face Middle Tennessee in the first round on Thursday. Cincinnati is the sixth seed and will meet the winner of the Kansas State-Wake Forest game in Sacramento, Calif. UCLA is paired with Kent State.

Dayton is the South Region’s No. 7 seed and will play Wichita State Friday in Indianapolis. The winner of that game would face either UK (29-5) or Northern Kentucky.

The Dayton-Wichita State game is slated to tip off at 7:10 p.m. with the UK-NKU game to follow. The game will be televised on CBS.

“I know it’s our little corner of the world is Northern Kentucky, who has had a terrific year,” said UK head coach John Calipari. “Then Wichita State, who has won 15 in a row; and Dayton who is coached by one of the young stars in our profession in Archie Miller. So that’s our little corner.

“Then I think it’s North Carolina, UCLA, and Butler. So that’s what I know. I don’t know another region – how is that region? I mean, there’s got to be some others that are tough, too. They said they put out the seed, we played into the No. 5 overall, which we played. Guys did what they were supposed to. They did it in tournament play, and finished the year, and won tough games and got down and still won and so.”

NKU (24-10) got an automatic bid into the tournament by winning the Horizon League Tournament Championship.

Louisville was the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region behind No. 1 seed Kansas. Louisville (24-8) will take on OVC champion Jacksonville State, coached by former WKU head man Ray Harper, in first-round action Friday in Indianapolis. Oregon is the third seed while Big 10 regular season champ Purdue is the fourth seed in the Midwest.

The Boilermakers will face Vermont in first-round play.

Florida and South Carolina from the SEC were both assigned to the East Region, where Villanova is the overall No. 1 seed and Duke is No. 2. South Carolina will play Marquette on Friday while Florida plays East Tennessee State on Thursday. The Gators are the region’s No. 4 seed.

Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed in the West Region. Vanderbilt in the ninth seed in the region and will meet Northwestern, making its first NCAA appearance. Notre Dame is seeded fifth and faces Ivy League champion Princeton in first-round play. Bob Huggins’ West Virginia team, seeded No. 4, is matched against Bucknett.

Xavier is the 11th seed and will tackle Maryland on Thursday. No. 2 seed Arizona will play North Dakota.

Earning a No. 2 seed for the seventh time in program history, Kentucky enters the NCAA Tournament fresh off an 82-65 win over Arkansas (25-9) to seize the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship. The victory was UK’s 11th straight, which ties for the fifth-longest winning streak in the country entering the tournament.

The Wildcats (29-5) also finished the regular season with a 16-2 record in league play to claim its 48th regular-season league championship as well as the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament. It was UK’s fifth SEC regular season title in eight seasons under John Calipari.

UK is 44-10 in tournament openers and has won 23 of its last 24 first round tournament games. UK owns a 121-49 record all-time in NCAA action, with its .711 winning percentage the fourth-best in NCAA history.

Kentucky has only faced off against in-state opponent NKU once in the history of the two programs, with the Wildcats picking up a 93-63 victory on Nov. 10, 2013. The Norse will be making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament, having compiled a 24-10 overall record and winning their first Horizon League Tournament Championship by downing Milwaukee, 59-53.

With the victory, Northern Kentucky earned the automatic NCAA Tournament bid in their first year eligible to do so after being granted full Division I status in August.

With a win over Northern Kentucky, Kentucky would face the winner of the No. 7 Dayton – No. 10 Wichita State matchup. Dayton holds a 24-7 record on the season and 15-3 in Atlantic 10 action. The Flyers are coming off a 73-67 loss to Davidson in the quarterfinals of the A10 Championships, 72-69, on March 10. Wichita State owns a 30-4 record this season, including a 17-1 mark in Missouri Valley Conference play.

The Shockers won their fourth MVC Tournament Championship on March 5 and have won their last 15 contests. Kentucky is 0-1 against Dayton and 1-0 against Wichita State in the all-time series.

Tickets for the first and second round games in Indianapolis can be purchased by visiting NCAA.com/tickets. Fans will find complete ticket information for all NCAA sites, including information on NCAA Ticket Exchange, the official secondary marketplace for authentic NCAA Tournament tickets.

Student ticket information will be posted online at UKStudentTix.com later Sunday.

Gametracker: Kentucky vs. Northern Kentucky (NCAA 1st Round at Indianapolis), 9:20 p.m. Friday. TV/Radio: CBS, 98.1 FM WBUL

UK Athletics contributed to this report

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