Kentucky’s road map to the 2022 SEC Tournament title


Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin (0) hugs guard Davion Mintz (10) after the UK vs. Alabama mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 90-81. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

The road map for Kentucky to claim an SEC Tournament championship has been revealed. 

The No. 3 seeded Wildcats earned a double-bye into the quarterfinals of the tournament alongside Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Kentucky was awarded the No. 3 seed after its 71-63 win over Florida in Gainesville on Saturday, March 5. A loss would have dropped the Cats one spot lower, placing Arkansas in the three spot. 

UK will play the fourth and final quarterfinal on Friday, March 11 at approximately 8:30 p.m. EST inside Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida. 

While the opponent won’t be determined until the day before, there’s a high chance that the Cats first foe will be a familiar one. 

The No. 6 seed Alabama will take on the winner of the first round matchup between No. 11 Vanderbilt and No. 14 Georgia, with the winner of that matchup moving on to play Kentucky. 

While the Crimson Tide appear to be the likely opponent for UK, they will enter the tournament on a two-game losing streak, dropping matchups against Texas A&M at home and on the road against LSU. 

Head coach Nate Oats’ squad turned in a disappointing 9-9 record in SEC play, failing to find consistency after a fantastic start to the year. 

Kentucky has defeated Alabama twice this season, once in Lexington and once in Tuscaloosa.

The teams first met at Alabama on Feb. 5, where UK was victorious 66-55. The Tide shot themselves out of the matchup, making just 3 of 30 3-point attempts.

In the rematch exactly two weeks later, Kentucky outshot Bama en route to a 90-81 win. Kellan Grady connected on 7 treys, scoring 25 points inside Rupp Arena.

Assuming Vanderbilt is able to get past the woeful Georgia, the Commodores would have a real shot at defeating the skidding Tide. 

In the lone game between the two, Alabama squeaked by in Nashville, winning 74-72. 

Like Alabama, Vanderbilt was swept in both its meetings against UK. The Cats defeated the Dores first in Nashville, winning 78-66 without point guard Sahvir Wheeler. 

In round two in Lexington, Vandy kept it close in a 77-70 loss. Scotty Pippen Jr carried the Commodores, dropping 33 points, six rebouds and five assists on Feb. 2. 

If Kentucky can find victory in its quarterfinal matchup, the expected outcome will be round three against Tennessee in the semifinals. 

The No. 2 seeded Volunteers will face the winner of No. 10 Mississippi State and No. 7 South Carolina in the quarters. 

Assuming things go in favor of UT, the rivals will have one more opportunity to square off, this time on a neutral court. 

The two teams split their meetings in the regular season. Kentucky blitzed UT inside Rupp Arena, shooting 68 percent from the floor as they smushed the Vols 107-79. 

Tennessee returned the favor in Knoxville, holding the Cats to 34 percent shooting in the rematch, winning 76-63 on Feb. 15. 

Say the Wildcats manage to win the rubber match against UT, the championship game will almost certainly be a revenge match for UK. 

If Auburn and Arkansas hold their ground and square off in the other semifinal, the winner of said game will enter the title bout up 1-0 on Kentucky. 

The Tigers won 80-71 over the Cats on Jan. 22 inside Auburn Arena in what was a close battle all the way through. UK lost TyTy Washington Jr for a majority of the game due to injury. 

Arkansas’ victory is much more recent, as the Razorbacks fought past the Cats for a 75-73 win inside Bud Walton Arena on Feb. 26. JD Notae led the Hogs with 30 points. 

Kentucky has the horsepower required to claim the SEC Tournament title, but it will likely take some wins over some top-notch opponents to get there. The SEC is at its peak in 2022, something that bodes well for both the teams and the fans as March Madness rolls around.