Cats earn no. 3 seed in South Region

Published 3:30 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2024

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An early exit in the Southeastern Conference Tournament didn’t prove to be costly to Kentucky’s NCAA seeding after all when pairings were announced Sunday.

The Wildcats (23-9) received a No. 3 seed in the South Region and will open against No. 14 seed Oakland of the Horizon League on Thursday.

Oakland (23-11) won the conference tournament with an 83-76 win over Milwaukee last week. The Golden Grizzlies split two games with Northern Kentucky, both of which went into overtime. Darren Horn’s Norse lost to Oakland 70-65 on the road, but rallied for a 99-89 overtime win at NKU on Feb. 8.

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The SEC tourney opener was a setback for Kentucky, but Tre Mitchell wasn’t concerned after the loss to the Aggies. “This minor setback is going to motivate a lot of dudes to play that much harder come the tournament,” he said.

Kentucky coach John Calipari believes his team will value the sense of urgency following Friday’s letdown in Nashville.

“I think they’ll know when we talk about it next week, that wherever we end up, we’re going to have a tough first game,” he said. “It will be hard.”

Kentucky has won five of its last six games going into the tournament. The Wildcats lost to Texas A&M 97-87 in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday in Nashville.

“We have shown that we can guard the best teams in the country,” Calipari said. “We have shown that you can score 100 on us. We just got to lock in and know we’ve got to get better defensively.”

Overall, eight teams from the SEC — Kentucky (3), Tennessee (2), Auburn (4), Alabama (4), South Carolina (6), Florida (7), Mississippi State (8) and Texas A&M (9) – received bids to the Big Dance.

Two other state schools — Morehead State and Western Kentucky — join the Wildcats in the 68-team field. The Hilltoppers (22-11) will be making their 24tht appearance in the Big Dance after winning their first Conference USA title Saturday night with a 78-71 victory over UTEP Saturday night in Birmingham.

Western defeated New Mexico State and rolled past Middle Tennessee State before edging the Miners in the conference tournament finals.

The Hilltoppers are a No. 15 seed will play Marquette, the second seed in the South Region, on Friday in Indianapolis.

Morehead State earned the first automatic bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament following a 69-55 win over Little Rock to win the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. The Eagles were regular season co-champions in the league and has win six straight games and carries a 26-8 record into the Big Dance.

The Eagles, a No. 14 seed, will take on Illinois in the East Regional on Thursday in Omaha, Neb.

Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin, 37, has guided the Eagles to a 94-39 record during the past four years. He led Morehead to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years in 2021 and an NIT appearance last season that included an upset win over Clemson in the first round.

He coached Auburn standout Johni Broome for two seasons. Broome was named the SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player after leading the Tigers to the tournament title with an 86-67 win over Florida on Sunday in Nashville. Auburn is a No. 4 seed in the East Region.