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Proud Barnhart eager to see Cats 'prove some people wrong'

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Kentucky will face ninth-seeded Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky will face ninth-seeded Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ATLANTA -- Mitch Barnhart has served on a selection committee before.

It wasn't under quite the same spotlight as the one that selects teams for the men's basketball NCAA Tournament, but he understands the perspective of the people who collaborate to make those decisions.

Years ago Barnhart sat on the baseball selection committee, so he knows what it means to leave a team out.

"I was in the room a couple times when some teams got left out and I got those phone calls," Barnhart said. "Yeah, I've been on that side of it. So, yeah, it's hard. It doesn't matter what sport it is; emotions and kids are the same."

Barnhart said he "vividly" remembers fielding some of those conversations with peers. In fact, he can even remember questioning himself afterwards.

"You sit there and say, 'Did we make the right call?' " Barnhart told reporters after the Selection Show. "You get to a spot where you make -- and then matchups and everybody says, 'Gosh dern, what were you thinking?' "

Even with that background and understanding of the factors committee members have to cope with, Barnhart can't reconcile the No. 8 seed John Calipari's Kentucky team received on Sunday.

"But having said that, all of that -- it is a difficult task -- I just don't think we sometimes get the respect we deserve," Barnhart said. "Cal does a tremendous job coaching this team and he did a great job getting us ready to play in this tournament."

Barnhart was in Atlanta for all three of UK's Southeastern Conference Tournament games. He watched as UK dispatched LSU and Georgia and came within a basket of upsetting No. 1 overall seed Florida. He was with the team as the players licked their wounds following the loss and watched the Selection Show together.

Coach Cal predicted the Wildcats would receive an eight seed in a private room at the Georgia Dome, so neither he nor his team batted an eye when the Cats learned their fate. Barnhart still did though.

"It's very surprising, to be real honest with you," Barnhart said. "I thought when the committee and those folks ask you to play strength of schedule and those kind of things, that's what I think we do. We play a difficult strength of schedule."

Barnhart is right about that.

According to the NCAA's final RPI, UK comes in at No. 17 with an overall strength of schedule ranked third nationally. Coach Cal structured his schedule -- with games against four seeds Michigan State and Louisville, sixes North Carolina and Baylor -- with the Selection Committee in mind, but the Cats were not rewarded.

Instead, they face a second-round matchup with Kansas State, an almost certain third-round showdown with unbeaten Wichita State, and one seed contenders Michigan and Duke on the opposite side of their Midwest bracket.

"I do believe that we've got a very difficult path and obviously some really difficult games ahead of us, and if we find our way through it will have been well-earned," Barnhart said.

Conspiracy theorists will have surely plenty to say about the reasons for that, but Barnhart knows the committee members and can vouch that no nefarious motives are at play.

"They're honest guys," Barnhart said. "Don't ever question the integrity of the guys in the room. They're good people. ... I would hope that if I'm sitting in the room and have an opportunity, you do what's right. And I think basically people try to do what's right. Sometimes it gets difficult and that's hard."

To make those difficult decisions, the committee relied on a handful of criteria that give some insight into UK's seeding.

NCAA Selection Committee Chairman Ron Wellman told reporters significant value was assigned to road wins against top-50 opponents. UK's lone such win came against Missouri, ranked No. 49 in the RPI but left out of the tournament.

"Road wins against top-50 teams are really, really impressive to the Committee," Wellman said.

For the sake of comparison, teams seeded one line above Kentucky at seven had four top-50 road wins between them. Texas had two (No. 25 North Carolina, No. 30 Baylor), Oregon one (No. 14 UCLA), UConn one (No. 37 Memphis) and New Mexico none. UK was rated higher in the RPI than all but New Mexico in that group.

Wellman was asked specifically about Kentucky's seeding in both his teleconference with the media and his Selection Show Interview and both times brought up UK's lack of wins against NCAA Tournament teams.

"Kentucky, when you watch them play, they are very impressive," Wellman said. "Every time you watch them play they're extremely impressive. At the same time, Kentucky had two wins this year against tournament-bound teams and those wins were in December."

UK did add a third win against an NCAA team after December against Tennessee, who was picked for a First Four game, but Wellman's point stands. The Cats managed a record of just 3-6 against the seven NCAA-bound opponents they faced, though only two of the losses came by more than five points.

Seven seeds UConn (7-5), New Mexico (4-4), Oregon (4-6) and Texas (9-9) all had better records against the field.

"So when we compare various metrics -- and we use all kinds of metrics to evaluate teams -- you look for reasons to move teams up, you look for reasons to move teams down, and it's not consistent," Wellman said. "We recognize that. You're just looking for reasons to make the decisions that need to be made."

That underscores the main problem both Barnhart and Calipari have with the selection process after the SEC had just three teams selected and two -- UK and Tennessee -- receive unexpectedly low seeds.

"... That's the kind of stuff that our league -- not me, not the ADs -- our league needs to find out who in that room, what were we basing this on because you can't keep moving the goalposts," Calipari said. " 'It's strength of schedule.' Really? Then move the goalposts. 'It's how you finish.' Really? 'No, it's you didn't beat enough people.' Really? I mean, which one (is it)? And moving the goalposts makes it easy."

Wellman also suggested UK's seed would have changed had the Cats scored on their final possession against Florida. What would not have changed is Barnhart's opinion of the way they played this weekend.

"They've come a long way, and they've worked really, really hard," Barnhart said. "They've made some adjustments the way they're playing the game, and their attitude--I'm really proud of their effort and the way they represented Kentucky."

With UK's tourney run beginning at approximately 9:40 p.m. ET on Friday, the Cats don't have much more time for handwringing.

"It doesn't matter what other seeds are now," Calipari said. "It's over. I can be mad about it, you can be mad, everybody can be (mad). Explain yourself. They had the fourth strength of schedule. Are you telling people they don't have to play anybody? Explain it. But they don't have to explain it. They said what we did. So, we just got to go play. We got to play basketball in St. Louis."

"Let's go prove some people wrong now," Barnhart tweeted.

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