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Sunday, March 9
 
Kentucky just one of many to make strides Saturday

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Kentucky's run to a perfect Southeastern Conference record and it's likely lock on a No. 1 seed was the story of a hectic, eventful and enlightening final Saturday of the regular season.

The Wildcats did what few teams have done in running the table in the SEC. The last team to do that in the SEC was the 1996 'Cats. They won the national title that season.

Kentucky's victory over Florida on Saturday in Gainesville was as impressive a victory as any the Wildcats have earned this season. Kentucky could end up earning the top seed overall in the NCAA Tournament. If that were the case, then Kentucky would receive an easier path than Arizona to the Final Four. It might not be that much smoother, but they could get the top seed on the NCAA's 'S' curve of ranking the teams.

Why? Kentucky won a tougher conference than Arizona. Sweeping through the SEC is a lot harder than going through the Pacific-10 with one defeat. Kentucky went 12-2 against the top 50 in the RPI while Arizona was 8-2. Those are just numbers and the selection committee will look closely at how well these teams are playing and if they're honest with themselves they'll give the edge to Kentucky.

Kentucky topped the storylines Saturday, but the 'Cats weren't the only significant development.

  • Wake Forest wrapped up the outright ACC title by beating North Carolina State. Wake Forest's run to the top of the ACC was as remarkable run as any team has done in the fabled conference. The Demon Deacons were expected to finish in the lower third of the conference but ended up in first. Josh Howard made a strong play for national player of the year and the Demon Deacons aren't out of being a top two seed.

    N.C. State will still have to sweat out Selection Sunday, even with nine ACC victories. The Wolfpack have the one victory over Duke but that might not be enough.

  • Marquette beat Cincinnati and that means the Eagles win Conference USA -- the first team other than Cincinnati to do so in the conference's seven-year history. The Eagles have a shot at a top three seed, an outside push for a No. 1 seed if everyone else were to falter. Dwyane Wade also wrapped up the Conference USA player of the year award and could make a push for the national player of the year.

  • Texas beat Oklahoma for a sweep of the season series and the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament. Texas has the inside track for a top seed in the NCAAs with Kansas. But Oklahoma still has a shot at a No. 1 seed. The Sooners would likely play Texas in the Big 12 tournament semifinals. If they beat the Longhorns then they'll likely face Kansas in the Big 12 title game. Do all of that then Oklahoma has a chance for the No. 1 seed.

  • LSU beat Alabama and that could end up pushing the Tigers to the NCAAs, as long as the Tigers beat Vanderbilt. Alabama still has the better record against the top 50 and a stronger RPI, but the Tide must beat South Carolina in the first round. Alabama would then face Kentucky in the quarterfinals and a victory would certainly make them feel secure. LSU would have to play Florida in the quarterfinals. LSU has the victory over Arizona that will carry weight during the selection process.

  • Auburn lost to Mississippi State in the SEC West showdown. But the Tigers still received a bye in the tournament as the second-place team. That could be good enough for the Tiger faithful but they might have to beat Georgia in the SEC tourney, assuming the Bulldogs beat Arkansas in the first round.

  • Tennessee beat Vanderbilt to keep its NCAA hopes alive. If the Vols can beat Ole Miss in the first round then they could push the selection committee to consider eight teams out of the SEC.

  • Colorado beat Nebraska at home to ensure a bid for the Buffaloes. Of course that's assuming Colorado doesn't lose to Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament.

  • Texas Tech lost at Baylor to give it a sagging 6-10 Big 12 record. The last six-win conference team to earn a bid was Florida State in 1998. The Red Raiders are likely out unless they can win the Big 12 tournament.

  • Indiana still should make the Dance despite losing at Penn State, but that didn't help its resumé. It also crushes the Hoosiers' chances for a decent seed.

  • Penn won the Ivy League and should get a decent seed, but the selection committee might not be as kind. The Quakers are good enough to be an 11 or possibly a 10 but they probably won't get that high.

  • Connecticut earned the No. 2 seed in the Big East East Division with a crushing victory over Boston College. The Huskies were probably in the tournament before the game but this erases any doubt. BC could be hurt by the 91-54 defeat. The Eagles are the top seed out of the Big East East Division but that doesn't guarantee a bid. BC coach Al Skinner said it should but Troy Bell wasn't so sure. BC has 10 Big East wins but only 17 overall and the margin of defeat could weigh heavily on the minds of the committee. The Eagles won't have an easy path in the tournament by playing the winner of St. John's-Notre Dame next week.

  • Seton Hall lost again, this time to Providence in overtime after falling to Pittsburgh. The Hall was a hot ticket last week but no more and at 16-10 the Pirates are once again in a tenuous position of needing a lift in the tournament for a bid.

  • Louisville crushed Charlotte but played without Marvin Stone -- again -- as the NCAA looks into allegations of extra benefits again. The committee will have a tough time now of dealing with his eligibility and whether it should affect seeding if he's not back for the Conference USA tourney next week.

  • Creighton squeaked by Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. A loss to the Sycamores could have meant bubble status for the Bluejays.

  • UNC-Asheville won the Big South Conference tournament and that means the sub .500 team can book a ticket to Dayton for the opening round. Remember, it's the worst teams, not the worst leagues that get into the opening round game.

  • UCLA beat Washington to earn the last spot in the Pac-10 tournament. And Steve Lavin gets to coach another week in Westwood.

    Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.






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