In previous years, that likely would have been enough to knock the Blue Raiders (28-5) out of the NCAAs. Not this time. They are headed to the tournament, helped along by another in a series of upsets on the final weekend _ Mississippi, which lost at Middle Tennessee in early December, knocked off Florida in the SEC championship game Sunday.
“They had no rough patches along the way, and their win over Ole Miss looks better at this point in time,” Bobinski said of the Blue Raiders.
The tournament begins Tuesday with a pair of games in Dayton, Ohio, but things really get rolling on Thursday and Friday, when 64 teams will be in action. Everyone is trying to get to Atlanta for the Final Four, which starts April 6 at the Georgia Dome.
Bobinski frequently cited quality road wins as a leading factor in who got bids, a big reason Kentucky (21-11) had to settle for the National Invitation Tournament. The Wildcats struggled to mesh with their latest group of potentially one-and-done freshmen, and took a major hit when the best of the bunch, Nerlens Noel, went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Kentucky lost its last four Southeastern Conference road games by an average of 17.5 points _ including a 30-point blowout at Tennessee _ then turned in another ugly performance when it needed to impress at the SEC tournament. A 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals pretty much finished off any chance the Wildcats had of sneaking into the NCAA field.
“I’m not saying they necessarily had to win it,” Bobinski said. “Just winning a game or winning two games would have given us a little more confidence about who they are as a team. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out for them.”
As if that’s not bad enough for Kentucky fans, Louisville gets to rub a little more salt in its rival’s wounds by opening the tournament about 75 miles from campus on Kentucky’s home court, Rupp Arena in Lexington. The Cardinals will face either Liberty or North Carolina State in a second-round game Thursday.
Kentucky plays an NIT game Tuesday _ on the road because Rupp is taken for the NCAAs _ at Robert Morris.
“It’s a great lesson for the future of our program and a humbling experience for me,” coach John Calipari said.
Gonzaga (30-2), relishing the first No. 1 seed in school history, faces No. 16 Southern in the second round of the West Regional at Salt Lake City on Thursday. The following day, Kansas (29-5) stays close to home, facing Western Kentucky in a South Region game at Kansas City, while Indiana (28-6) opens in Dayton against either LIU Brooklyn or James Madison.
The selection committee had its work cut out after five teams swapped the top ranking in The Associated Press poll, capped by West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga claiming the No. 1 ranking for the first time in school history. Bobinski said six teams were in the running for top seeds on the final weekend.
Kansas moved up to the second overall seed after winning the Big 12 tournament. Indiana held on to third overall despite falling to Wisconsin in the Big Ten semifinals. The Zags claimed the last of the coveted No. 1 seeds, edging out ACC champion Miami.
The Hurricanes, known more for their football success, became the first ACC team to be denied a top seed after winning both the regular season and the conference tournament. They joined Duke, Georgetown from the Big East, and Big Ten tournament champion Ohio State as No. 2 seeds.
“If we had five spots, Miami would be there,” Bobinski said. “In the final analysis, we put Gonzaga just ahead of them. But it was very, very close.”
The top seeds are significant in at least one respect: A No. 1 has never lost to a 16th-seeded team.