Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Kentucky Faces a ‘Murderer’s Row’ to Reach Final Four
John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats will have to navigate through a “Murderer’s Row” of NCAA Tournament opponents in order to get to the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona.
After winning their 30th SEC Tournament title against Arkansas on Sunday afternoon, the Wildcats were ranked as the No. 5 overall team in the Big Dance and given the No. 2 seed in the South.
They will open against No. 15 Northern Kentucky in the late game Friday night in Indianapolis, but then could have to face No. 10 Wichita State (30-4) in the second round on Sunday. The Shockers meet No. 7 Dayton in a first-round game earlier Friday night.
Assuming the Wildcats get through that, they could then have to face No. 3 UCLA (29-4) — which beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena in December — in the Sweet 16 in Memphis.
A potential Elite Eight date with No. 1 North Carolina, the ACC regular-season champion whom Kentucky beat in December thanks to Malik Monk’s 47-point outburst.
“Can you imagine a couple brackets harder than ours?” Calipari said Sunday night. “Now this is my eighth year. It’s not been close. Called it Murderer’s Row and Insane Row and so they say – I haven’t looked at them, but.”
As Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News points out, this isn’t the first time Kentucky has faced a brutal bracket. Things were pretty difficult in 2011, 14′ and ’16, too. In 2014, they were placed in the 8/9 game and faced undefeated Wichita State as the 1. The Wildcats beat the Shockers before taking out No. 4 Louisville and No. 2 Michigan en route to the Final Four. There they beat Wisconsin before falling to Shabazz Napier and UConn in the championship game.
Calipari said North Carolina looked like the toughest team in the South Region.
“They said we were No. 5 overall, I would say North Carolina’s, right now, when you talk about who has got the team, it’s probably North Carolina,” Calipari said. “But that’s fine, I mean, we played our way in.”
Despite the brutality of the South Region, Calipari said this NCAA Tournament looks more wide open than any one in recent memory – with 10 or 12 teams having a legitimate shot to cut down the nets next month in Arizona.
“Look, in past years we all knew there were about five teams that could win the national title, sometimes less,” he said. “Three teams, four teams. But there would be about 10 or 12 that could get to the Final Four. This year, you’re talking 10 or 12 that could maybe break through and do something crazy. And you’re probably talking 20 to 22, 23, that could get to a Final Four.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.