BOISE, Idaho — When the 2018 NCAA Tournament bracket was announced last week, John Calipari wasted no time launching into his annual conspiracy theory that the selection committee tried to give Kentucky the most difficult path to a title. On Saturday, after the Wildcats punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 and the rest of the South Region bracket was reduced to rubble, Calipari gloated.
“I betcha that committee is mad right now. Woof,” he said, grinning mischeviously. “They never saw this coming. They may want to re-bracket. Can they re-bracket?”
Six days ago, fresh off its SEC Tournament championship, Kentucky earned a No. 5 seed in the South Region and it certainly did look like a challenging draw at the time: opening the tournament in Boise, Idaho, on a short turnaround, with a potential second-round matchup against Arizona (which has the likely No. 1 NBA draft pick) and Sweet 16 showdown with No. 1 overall seed Virginia, — and maybe a fourth meeting with Tennessee for a trip to the Final Four.
But then Arizona got blown out by No. 13 seed Buffalo, which Kentucky blew out Saturday, and Virginia became the first No. 1 ever to lose to a No. 16 (by blowout to UMBC), and finally the Volunteers fell on a buzzer-beater by No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago.
So now, after beating No. 12 seed Davidson and the No. 13 seed Bulls, the Cats will face the winner between UMBC and No. 9 seed Kansas State in the Sweet 16 in Atlanta and either the winner of No. 2 seed Cincinnati vs. No. 7 seed Nevada … or Loyola-Chicago for a spot in the Final Four.
As of Sunday morning, exactly a week after Calipari thought his team got hosed on the draw, the possibility will still exist that Kentucky could reach the Final Four by beating a 12, 13, 16 and 11 seed — the easiest path, seed-wise, in NCAA Tournament history.
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