Before NCAA, Nashville awaits the Cats

UK guard Archie Goodwin celebrates after UK scores at UK vs. Missouri at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, February 23, 2013. Photo by Emily Wuetcher | Staff....

By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel

dschuh@kykernel.com

The SEC Tournament begins next week with a 14-team field for the first time in its history. And if everything stays the same, UK will be a 2-seed heading to Nashville, Tenn. next weekend.

As of Tuesday night, they’re slated to play next Friday night against the winner of Arkansas and Vanderbilt in the quarterfinal.

The Cats could hold onto that 2-seed with two wins to close out the season. A win Thursday against Georgia will guarantee no worse than a 3-seed, ensuring a double-bye.

It is all highly dependent on UK’s final two games. They controlled their own destiny to a 1-seed and the SEC regular season title before losing to Arkansas Saturday. So, as long as Florida beats Vanderbilt at home Wednesday, the 2-seed will be the best option for the Cats.

With their NCAA Tournament berth very much under question, anything but a win over Florida on Saturday will put a large emphasis on the Cats’ SEC Tournament performance.

If they finish the season as a No. 2 or 3 seed, two wins and an appearance in the SEC Championship game would put UK in a good spot on Selection Sunday. Anything less, though, and head coach John Calipari could be staring down his fifth NIT visit, the first since 2005 with Memphis.

Four of UK’s five SEC losses this season have been on the road, the other being at home against Texas A&M when Elston Turner torched the Cats for 40 points on Jan. 12.

Conceivably, if UK fans travel as well as they have in the past, the Cats will have a strong fan base, particularly in Nashville, Tenn., about 200 miles from Lexington.

The SEC Tournament, more so than in recent years, is a vital piece of UK’s season. The Cats have a chance to win their 29th tournament title, but in this season of inconsistency, it’s a few more chances to win games that could propel the Cats into the NCAA Tournament.

UK has missed the Big Dance only one time in the past 22 years. The Cats could still miss it this March, but their fate may very well rest in outcomes out of Nashville next weekend.