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Stacked and potential story-filled NCAA Tournament path awaits UK

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Doron Lamb speak to reporters after watching the Selection Show. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Doron Lamb speak to reporters after watching the Selection Show. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.

Having flown back to Lexington during the NCAA Selection Show, some of the players already had an idea of where they were going, who they were facing and some of the potential matchups that could lay down the road.

And yet for many of them, this was the first time to see their team show up Selection Sunday, and for all of them, it was their first chance to see Kentucky as the No. 1 overall seed.

But when the Cats watched the recording of the Selection Show at John Calipari's house Sunday evening, huddled on couches as cameras flashed and reporters watched their every move, not a single one of them budged.

There was no applause, few smiles and no cheering. Some never said a word.

They expected to be the No. 1 overall seed, and they expected a tough draw filled with potential story lines along every step to the Final Four.

"I keep getting everybody saying we got the toughest region, but that's what was expected," Coach Cal said. "I'm happy we're not playing on Tuesday. I thought they may try to do that. The first game will be hard. The second game will be like a war. If you're lucky enough to move on from there, it's one team after another. So they stacked the region and that's OK. We've played all comers."

Kentucky, which lost earlier Sunday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship to Vanderbilt, finished the regular season 32-2. As the top overall seed, UK will play the winner of Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky on Thursday in the South Region. That second-round game in the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville will be played at 6:50 p.m. on TBS.

Regardless of the opponent, it will be must-see TV for Kentucky fans, even for a 1-16 matchup. Mississippi Valley State is coached by Kentucky "Unforgettable" Sean Woods, whose shot was nearly "the shot" before Christian Laettener's buzzer beater in the 1992 Elite Eight. Should Western Kentucky win, the obvious in-state rival exist, not to mention the Cats haven't played the Hilltoppers since losing to them during the 2001-02 season.

If UK gets out of its first game - and it would be history if the Cats didn't considering no 16 seed has ever defeated a 1 - the story lines continue.

No. 9 seed Iowa State features forward Royce White, who reportedly almost transferred to Kentucky from Minnesota. Should the Cats get No. 8 seed Connecticut, it will be a rematch of last year's Final Four game.

From there, it gets even more interesting. UK's lone regular-season loss, Indiana, is a potential Sweet 16 opponent, which Coach Cal has been telling his good friend and Indiana coach Tom Crean would happen for the last few weeks.

"I said, 'We'll be playing. You watch. You will be playing against us,' " Calipari told Crean. "I think last year I picked West Virginia. Did I not? I've been wrong before. I think it was '78."

And then, if UK can make it all the way to the Elite Eight, a potential date with Duke exists on the 20-year anniversary of what some call the greatest game ever played.

Coach Cal said he doesn't pay attention to the story lines, but he isn't surprised at what the NCAA selection committee drew up for his team.

"The only thing I was happy (about) was I heard they were trying to get an exemption for the (Miami) Heat to be the second seed in our bracket and they weren't allowed to that so they couldn't put them in there too," Calipari said facetiously.

At the end of the day, made-for-TV story lines or not, Calipari said it's about matchups, and with a team he really likes, he likes his chances.

"Seed matters," Coach Cal said. "I know because I've done this. When someone says it doesn't matter where you're seeded, it matters. The matchups matter because there are some that get that path and then there is another guy that's in the foxhole, bazooka shots coming at them."

Some of the players were particularly pleased to see Indiana as a possible opponent down the road. Up until Sunday's loss to Vanderbilt, the buzzer beater in Bloomington, Ind., was the only heartbreak they've known all season.

"I told my teammates I want to play them," Indiana native Marquis Teague said. "That would be a great game for us. We would love to get them again."

Others were just happy to see the field and put Sunday's loss behind them.

"We're still upset about the loss today," senior Darius Miller said. "We're not really over it. Hopefully we use it to motivate us."

Kentucky will be making its 52nd NCAA Tournament appearance and third straight under Calipari. UK leads the NCAA with 105 tournament wins, and Coach Cal is 32-13 in the Big Dance, including three Final Four berths.

But UK's first two games will have a different feel to them as the Cats will head just an hour up Interstate 64 to play in Louisville. It's only the program's third visit to the Derby City and first since 1961.

Tickets for the first- and second-round games in Louisville are already sold out with the exception of all-session packages. No one doubts that the majority of those tickets were snatched up by Big Blue fans.

"It should be real good," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "Our fans travel with us wherever we go. Just to make it easier on us and them down the street should make it a real good outcome for us."

However, the Cats dismissed the notion that the bracket's No. 1 overall seed and likely home-court advantage makes them the favorite to win the championship.

"This is the best of the best right here," Miller said. "Every team has a chance. We've got to come out and do our part to make sure we have a chance at the end."

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