The singular question all season has been: Can anyone beat Kentucky?
It won’t be easy.
Top-ranked Kentucky will embark on a six-game march toward becoming the first unbeaten national champion in 39 years without needing to travel more than five hours away from home at any point during the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats, the 19th team to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated, will open tournament play in Louisville as the prohibitive favorite to win their second national title in four seasons. If they advance, their quest of capping the season with a 40-0 record would continue in Cleveland in the Midwest Regional and ultimately the Final Four in Indianapolis.
Joining Kentucky as No. 1 seeds were Villanova (East), Wisconsin (West) and Duke (South). Virginia, which had an 8-3 record against top-50 teams and lost two of its last three games, dropped to a No. 2 seed.
NCAA TOURNAMENT: Printable bracket
The group of No. 2 seeds was particularly stout this season, but someone had to be the unlucky team that was placed in Kentucky’s region, setting up a potential meeting with the juggernaut in the Elite Eight. That team is Kansas, which lost to Kentucky by 32 points on Nov. 18 before stabilizing its season to win its 11th straight Big 12 regular season title.
That is if Kansas gets that far. A juicy second-round NCAA tournament matchup between No. 7 seed Wichita State and the Jayhawks could take place in Omaha.
In a testament to the strength of the nation’s strongest league, the 10-team Big 12 received seven invitations. Four of those teams — Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma — all earned three seeds or better. The Big Ten also received seven invitations.
Among the other Selection Sunday developments:
Bubble teams nationwide exhaled a sigh of relief when SMU beat UConn in the American tournament title game Sunday because a Huskies victory would have taken another at-large slot away. Wyoming already took one at-large spot away by earning the automatic berth in the Mountain West Conference.
The most controversial selection was 11th-seeded UCLA not only making the field but also avoiding the First Four in Dayton. UCLA had a 2-8 record against top 50 teams, 5-10 mark against top 100 teams and a 4-12 record on road and neutral courts. It was a very curious at-large selection.
Both Texas and Indiana were considered bubble teams heading into Sunday. Both not only earned at-large invites but they managed to avoid the First Four in Dayton.
Texas is just 3-12 against top-50 teams and 8-13 against top-100 teams. The Hoosiers have only won four games since the start of February. They are 4-9 against top-50 teams and 8-12 against top-100 teams. What’s more, they are just 5-9 outside of Bloomington. IU’s best wins are against Maryland and SMU.
Murray State, which came within a point of winning the Ohio Valley tournament title, was not selected for the tournament. Murray State played the nation’s 218th strongest non-league schedule. It played just three games against top-100 teams, winning one of them (Illinois State). And it has three losses against teams rated 100 or worse in the RPI, including a ghastly Nov. 14 loss to Houston (RPI: 239). Temple and Colorado State also were notable omissions.
BYU was one of the last teams to earn a bid. It has just one top-50 victory to hang its hat on. But it’s a good one, the Feb. 28 win at Gonzaga. It has also played the nation’s 33rd-toughest non-league schedule. And it is 11-6 outside of Provo. That’s all good. The bad was three losses against teams 134 or worse in the RPI.
The First Four in Dayton includes games between Boise State and Dayton and another between BYU and Mississippi.
NCAA TOURNAMENT’S AUTOMATIC BID WINNERS
9. Oklahoma State-West region