March Madness: No UK or UNC in NCAA Tournament?

By James F.

Can there be an NCAA Tournament without the Kentucky Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels? Talk about March Madness. That’s unheard of. But right now it is a real possibility. In fact, if we are just talking about Kentucky, it is more of a probability. Kentucky looks terrible without their injured star center Nerlens Noel. A week ago, Kentucky’s season was looking promising. They were on a winning streak of five games, had finally made their way back into the top 25 and had a date in Gainesville with the Florida Gators for first place in the SEC. Some people were even predicting a Kentucky win in the game.

Then the Gators drained three consecutive from downtown to take a 12 point lead late in the first half to make UK look like a bubble team again. Then with eight minutes left in the game, Noel went down after blocking a Mike Rosario layup attempt, screaming in pain and holding his knee. UK’s season went down the tubes right there. On Saturday in their first game without him they were blown out by the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville by 30 points, 82-52.

UK did receive a bit of good news when the Maryland Terrapins beat the #2 Duke Blue Devils on Saturday and the Ole Miss Rebels beat the Georgia Bulldogs. Ole Miss and Maryland are UK’s best wins. Ole Miss is #51 in the RPI and Maryland is #62. Maybe both will get into the top 50 this week. But If UK doesn’t figure a way to play without Noel. it may not matter. UK was #44 in the RPI before this wretched week. They likely won’t stay in the Top 50 themselves.

Things are looking a bit more hopeful in Chapel Hill after the Tar Heels beat fellow bubble team, the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday 93-81. North Carolina lost to Duke earlier in the week. They came into the week a respectable #30 in the RPI. They are 17-8 and still have the North Carolina State Wolfpack, Maryland and Duke left on the schedule. They could still get to 20 wins if they can beat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Clemson Tigers and Florida State Seminoles. The FSU game could turn out to be a big one. Like UK, UNC lacks the big wins. They have one win against the top 50 and three against the top 100 in the RPI. If they don’t get one of the three vs NC State, Maryland and Duke, they could be in big trouble.

How strange would an NCAA Tournament field look with neither the Tar Heels or Wildcats? The last time it happened was 1974 when the NCAA Tournament was nothing like it is today.

The real winner would be the NIT Tournament. They would get a big boost with the two Big Blue Giants in the field, especially if they can stay in for a trip to New York for the semifinals. These two could host games in that tournament and even though they will be disappointed, their fans wold still show up. But the NCAA Tournament without them would seem very strange indeed.