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From the Pressbox: Bracketologist Lunardi sees single-digit seed in UK's future

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"I think Kentucky is an NCAA tournament team. I think they are a single-digit NCAA tournament team and at the end of the day, they are the second-best team in the SEC and will have a single-digit seed, beyond the range of a eight/nine game."

So says ESPN's "Bracketology" analyst, Joe Lunardi. But in posting his twice-weekly projections of the tournament field for, he is trying to speculate on how the selection committee would select and seed the field on that given day. That's why Lunardi pegged the Wildcats as a 10-seed in last Friday's report, even though he thinks they'll end up higher.

"I do think they will get on a streak of sorts. I don't think it will be nine out of 10, but I think it will be seven or eight out of 10 and that will gain ground on the field," Lunardi said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "The SEC Tournament has been an event where the Cats have won a lot of games and I think we will see, at the end of the day, that Kentucky is the second-best team in that league. I don't think they are as good as Florida but that doesn't mean they cannot beat them once in two or three meetings. Florida is a legitimate title contender and a one seed and this year, Kentucky is not and maybe it was unfair of us to expect them to still be (as John Calipari's first three teams were) with having to rebuild their roster every year."

If you look at Ken Pomeroy's stats on offensive and defensive efficiency ( or Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings, Kentucky ranks in the nation's top 25. But when it comes to RPI, the Cats are in the 40s. Lunardi says that's a factor of the non-conference schedule - and it's more a result of the mid-majors that Kentucky played instead of the big names it did or did not face.

"Sometimes, you get unlucky in that the softer teams that you play aren't even up to their own standards and there were two or three examples of that on Kentucky's schedule this year. Combine that with a weaker SEC, combine that with Baylor not being Carolina (or Indiana) and you get a cumulative (effect) that impacts Kentucky in the nonconference," he said. "But in fairness, this team might not have been ready to play much better of a schedule in the nonconference. They lost some of those games.  The squeaked by Maryland in Brooklyn, lost to Baylor at home, lost at Notre Dame so, this maybe is Kentucky's level. They are just regular good this year instead of a juggernaut."

Coming into February, both Kentucky and North Carolina were at risk of not making the NCAA field, despite their perennial power status. Will their brand names get them into the field if their credentials are suspect? Lunardi doesn't buy it.

"I would say that is false. I think we have seen examples over the year's where a Kentucky, Carolina, Indiana or UCLA - the true blue bloods of the sport - have been left out because of non-achievement. Fundamentally the tournament is about 98 percent sold out already so ticket-selling is not really an issue. The network TV money is the same whether Kentucky is in the field or Northern Kentucky. If over a 10-year period, the sport lost all of its marquee names from postseason play, I suppose that would be problematic but on a year-to-year basis, 95 (to) 100 percent of those programs are in the field so an absence of a Kentucky doesn't make or break the economics of an event any more than a Duke losing in the first round to Lehigh (last year)," he observed. "If anything, because people like us ask the question, they (the committee) might try extra hard to evaluate those teams to make sure they are not giving them a vote based on perception or brand value."

How a team plays down the stretch of the season is no longer part of the official criteria that committee members get in their "nitty gritty" reports on each team it's considering, but Lunardi strongly believes how a team finishes does still matter.

"I think that is a huge factor. It is no longer a formal criteria on the team data sheet - the old record of the last 10 games or the last 12 - because they don't want to punish teams that played a back-loaded schedule, so that is reasonable, " he said, "but I mean, your games are listed chronologically and if there are lots of L's in a month, that is not going to help you. Again, when you get to the last few teams, there are more of them than there are spots so you don't want to give the committee a reason to leave you out."

Lunardi thinks a strong finish by Kentucky could potentially take UK as high as a four or five seed on Selection Sunday.

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