Fifth-ranked Kentucky starts to live up to its expectations

Year to year, few teams in the nation can say they live with higher expectations than the Kentucky Wildcats.

This year, it was no different.

The Wildcats opened as the No. 2 team in the nation in the Associated Press preseason poll, but after Kentucky debuted with a 118-84 loss to Duke, some started to wonder.

In coming weeks, the skepticism expanded with two more losses, one to Seton Hall, and another to Alabama.

The latter left Kentucky with a 10-3 overall record just as it moved into into the Southestern Conference phase of its schedule.

As it turns out, Kentucky may very well be a Final Four contender, after all.

After back-to-back defensive gems against Vanderbilt and Florida last week, the Wildcats have moved up to No. 5 in the AP poll.

Against Florida, Kentucky trailed by 11 with 13 minutes remaining in Gainesville and rallied to win, 65-54.

“There’s nothing really to say,” forward PJ Washington told the AP in Florida. “We know that we have to come together. You’re down 11 on the road. We just have to come together and have each other’s back and definitely just lock down on defense. We just had to dig down deep, come out and get it done.

“We didn’t want to lose.”

With an 18-3 overall record and an eight-game winning streak, the Wildcats have started to build an impressive body of work on the season.

Even though they got blown out by the Blue Devils early, they have defeated North Carolina and Kansas in two high-profile, non-conference tests.

How good are they?

Good enough for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?

Well, Washington is an emerging as a star, averaging 20.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in his last four games.

As a team, the Wildcats have held opponents to 59.2 points on 37.5 percent shooting during the eight-game streak.

Let’s just say, we’ll know more by the first week of March.

On Feb. 16, the Wildcats host the No. 1-ranked Tennessee Vols. On March 2, they play the Vols on the road in Knoxville.

AP Top 25
1. Tennessee 20-1 SE
2. Duke 19-2 ACC
3. Virginia 20-1 ACC
4. Gonzaga 21-2 West Coast
5. Kentucky 18-3 SEC
6. Nevada 21-1 Mountain West
7. Michigan 20-2 Big Ten
8. North Carolina 17-4 ACC
9. Michigan State 18-4 Big Ten
10. Marquette 19-3 Big East
11. Virginia Tech 18-3 ACC
12. Houston 21-1 American
13. Kansas 17-5 Big 12
14. Villanova 18-4 Big East
15. Purdue 16-6 Big Ten
16. Louisville 16-6 ACC
17. Iowa State 17-5 Big 2
18. Texas Tech 17-5 Big 12
19. Wisconsin 16-6 Big Ten
20. Iowa 17-5 Big Ten
21. LSU 17-4 SEC
22. Florida State 16-5 ACC
23. Buffalo 19-3 Mid-American
24. Maryland 17-6 ACC
25. Cincinnati 19-3 American

NCAA set to release 68-team tournament bracket


(Davidson players celebrate after knocking off Rhode Island for the Atlantic 10 championship.)

By Jerry Briggs
For thejbreplay.com

The 68-team NCAA tournament bracket is set for release Sunday at 5 p.m.

You can click on this link and fill it in as the teams are announced on national television, on TBS.

For the fourth time, San Antonio will host the Final Four.

The NCAA semifinals and finals will be held March 31 and April 2 at the Alamodome.

Sunday’s highlights

The up-and-down Kentucky Wildcats won the Southeastern Conference title Sunday, beating Tennessee 77-72.

Guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander exploded for 29 point and 7 rebounds to lead the Wildcats to the win over the SEC co-champions.

Tennessee entered the game projected as a No. 3 seed and Kentucky a No. 5 seed.

In a game that is expected to force the selection committee to drop one of its at-large selections from the field, Davidson beat Rhode Island 58-57 to win the Atlantic 10.

As a result, Davidson moves in unexpectedly to secure the conference’s automatic bid.

Rhode Island, projected as either a No. 7 or No. 8 seed, likely will make the tournament as an at large to effectively bump another team out.

In other games, Cincinnati scored a 56-55 victory over the Houston Cougars to claim the American Athletic championship.

Also, Georgia State won the Sun Belt title in New Orleans with a 74-61 victory over UT Arlington.

Sunday’s scores

(Tournament finals)

American — Cincinnati 56, Houston 55

Sun Belt — Georgia State 74, UT Arlington 61

Southeastern Conference — Kentucky 77, Tennessee 72

Atlantic 10 — Davidson 58, Rhode Island 57

Ivy League — Penn 68, Harvard 65

Saturday’s scores

(Tournament finals)

Big West — Cal State Fullerton 71, UC Irvine 55

Pac-12 — Arizona 75, USC 61

Western Athletic Conference — New Mexico State 72, Grand Canyon 58

Atlantic Coast Conference — Virginia 71, North Carolina 63

Southland Conference — Stephen F. Austin 59, Southeastern Louisiana 55

Conference USA — Marshall 67, Western Kentucky 66

Big Sky — Montana 82, Eastern Washington 65

Big East — Villanova 76, Providence 66, OT

Big 12 — Kansas 81, West Virginia 70

Mountain West — San Diego State 82, New Mexico 75

MAC — Buffalo 76, Toledo 66

America East – Maryland-Baltimore County 65, Vermont 62

MEAC — North Carolina Central 71,, Hampton 63

SWAC — Texas Southern 84, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 69


(Former UTSA assistants Jeremy Cox (left) and Kyle Keller (second from right) pose for the team picture on Saturday after Stephen F. Austin won the Southland Conference title).

Conference / NCAA automatic qualifier

Ohio Valley — Murray State (26-5)

Missouri Valley – Loyola-Chicago (28-5)

Big Ten — Michigan (28-7)

Big South — Radford (22-12)

Atlantic Sun — Lipscomb (23-9)

Southern — UNC Greensboro (27-7)

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference — Iona (20-13)

West Coast Conference — Gonzaga (30-4)

Horizon — Wright State (25-9)

Northeast — LIU Brooklyn (18-16)

Colonial Athletic Association — Charleston (26-7)

Summit — South Dakota State (28-6)

Patriot League — Bucknell (25-9)

America East — Maryland-Baltimore County (24-10)

MEAC — North Carolina Central (19-15)

SWAC — Texas Southern (15-19)

Big 12 — Kansas (27-7)

Mountain West — San Diego State (22-10)

Big East — Villanova (30-4)

MAC — Buffalo (26-8)

Conference USA — Marshall (24-10)

Southland — Stephen F. Austin (28-6)

Atlantic Coast — Virginia (31-2)

Big Sky — Montana (26-7)

Western Athletic Conference — New Mexico State (28-5)

Pac-12 — Arizona (27-7)

Big West — Cal State Fullerton (20-11)

Ivy League — Penn (24-8)

Southeastern — Kentucky (24-10)

Atlantic 10 — Davidson (21-11)

Sun Belt — Georgia State (24-10)

American — Cincinnati (30-4)


(Sophomore guard Rawle Alkins throws down a monster dunk, helping Arizona power past Southern Cal in the Pac-12 tournament).