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By David Schuh
Three weeks ago, the UK men’s basketball team was projected as a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
The Cats had won seven of their last eight games, and with a strong finish could have ended up ranked firmly in the top 10 by Selection Sunday.
A lot has happened in three weeks.
UK has lost three times in its last six games. A team that many thought was on the verge of reaching its full potential is now almost ensured to get no better than a 6-seed, barring two wins over the University of Florida in the next nine days.
As UK’s seed falls, so does its chances at making the Final Four. Only three teams in the last six tournaments have made the national semifinals as anything worse than a 5-seed: Butler University (8) and Virginia Commonwealth University (11) in 2011 and Wichita State University (9) in 2013.
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, UK has made the Final Four six times. Never were they worse than a 4-seed (2011).
The odds have gotten significantly worse for the Cats. As a 7-seed, as ESPN currently projects, UK would potentially have to beat the 2-seed, 3-seed and 1-seed on its way to the Final Four.
It all depends on the draw, but UK has played its way out of a favorable road to Dallas.
Still, the Cats maintain confidence with so much around them going wrong.
“It’s frustrating to lose,” freshman guard Aaron Harrison said after UK’s loss to the University of South Carolina on Saturday. “But coming up, we know what we can do, and it’s going to be a great story.”
No. 1 Florida on Saturday presents the first chance for UK to improve on that story.
Riding a 31-game home win streak, the Gators may be the most complete team in the country, riddled with talent and senior leadership.
To improve its chance in the NCAA Tournament, UK needs to beat the Gators either on Saturday or in the SEC Championship game next Sunday.
Anything else may nab UK a 6-seed, but no better.
The Cats can have all the optimism and confidence in the world. But given the way they’ve played their last four games, the results of Selection Sunday really do matter.
And if history is any evidence, the Cats are on the wrong side of the 5-seed barrier.