Kentucky will now know if a loss heading into the tournament can be a good thing.
The Wildcats fell to Vanderbilt in Sunday’s Southeastern Conference tournament championship game when their offense went stale in the second half. Kentucky missed its last 13 shots over the game’s final eight minutes.
There’s a theory that holds a team doesn’t want to carry a long winning streak — Kentucky’s reached 24 — into the NCAA Tournament, that a loss might release some pressure.
“We get this off our plate,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We don’t have to worry about a win streak, none of that. Let’s just go play in the tournament.”
The Wildcats’ bracket presents fascinating storylines. Top-seeded Kentucky will meet the winner of the opening-round game between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers haven’t played Kentucky since a 2002 victory in Lexington.
Unless the Wildcats become the first top seed to lose to a No. 16 in NCAA history, defending NCAA champion Connecticut may await in the third round. The ninth-seeded Huskies take on eighth-seeded Iowa State in the second round.
A potential Sweet 16 opponent is fourth-seeded Indiana, which handed Kentucky its only loss of the season until Sunday.
Then, how about a regional final against second-seeded Duke? It’s the 20th-anniversary season of the amazing East Regional final, won by Duke on the Christian Laettner buzzer-beater.
But for any of that to happen, Calipari said Kentucky must be more focused than it was against Vandy.
“My comment to them was, ‘Maybe I’ll have your attention now and you’re really going to focus in and listen to what I’m saying.”