LEXINGTON – Kentucky earned its 16th-consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament, earning the No. 8 seed in the West Region, when the tournament bracket was announced Sunday evening.
The Wildcats (21-11) face a relatively unfamiliar foe in the first round when they square off with ninth-seeded Villanova (22-10) on Friday at the United Center in Chicago. The two teams have five official meetings in their history, with UK winning all five, including one en route to the 1949 national championship.
In the first round of the 1949 NCAA Tournament, Kentucky and Villanova met in New York with the Bluegrass Cats taking an 85-72 victory. Kentucky would go on to beat Illinois and Oklahoma State to successfully defend its previous season’s national title.
The teams also squared off in the 1988 NCAA Tournament in the sweet 16, a game Villanova won, 80-74 in Birmingham, Ala. However UK’s appearance in that tournament was later vacated by the NCAA.
The last time the two teams met was in February 1998 when UK scored a 79-63 win. The Wildcats went on to win the national championship that year as well, the first under current head coach Tubby Smith.
The bid is the third straight for Villanova, which earned a No. 1 seed last year before bowing out of the tournament to eventual national champion Florida in the regional final. The Wildcats are making their 27th overall appearance – 11th most all time – and have the 1985 national championship to their credit. The Cinderella 1985 squad remains the lowest seed (eighth) to ever win a national title.
Thursday’s match up is one of three in the first round that pits former national champions against each other. The other two are Michigan State versus Marquette and Louisville versus Stanford.
Opposite UK in the pod is top-seeded Kansas (30-4), with the No. 16 seed being decided by the opening round game between Florida A&M (21-13) and Niagara (22-11). That game is slated for Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
The winners of the two first-round games meet on Sunday with a trip to the Sweet 16 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. on the line. Kansas, the Big 12 regular season and tournament champion, won national championships in 1952 and 1988. Florida A&M is making its third appearance in the NCAA Tournament, all coming since 1999, after winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament. Niagara enters the tournament for the second time in three years and third time ever by virtue of its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament title.
The other first round match-ups in Chicago are out of the Midwest Region. Second-seeded Wisconsin meets No. 15 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and No. 7-seed UNLV faces 10th-seeded Georgia Tech.
UK has played four NCAA Tournament games in the Chicago area, all at Northwestern’s McGaw Memorial Hall in Evanston. The Wildcats have played at the United Center four times previously going 3-1, all in Great Eight events from 1995-98. The last game UK played in Chicago was a 63-45 win over then-No. 7 Kansas in December 1998.
Sunday’s bid is the 48th all time for Kentucky, which is an NCAA record. The 16-straight appearance is the third longest active streak in the nation and fifth all time. Arizona has the longest current run with 23 consecutive trips and Kansas is second at 18 straight. North Carolina’s 27 straight bids from 1975-2001 mark the all-time record.
Kentucky has won seven national championships, been to 13 Final Fours and 28 Elite Eights, including two in the past four years. Last year, the Wildcats earned an eight seed in the tournament and beat UAB in the first round before falling in the second round to UConn.
Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith is making his 14th-consecutive appearance in the tournament and has the seventh best winning percentage in the tournament among active coaches with a 28-12 mark. His 14 straight trips is the third longest streak among active coaches and tied for fifth all time. He led UK to the 1998 national championship in his first year with the Wildcats.
The No. 8 seed marks the second-straight season the Wildcats have earned an eighth seed. Prior to that, UK had not been seeded as low since 1987, which marked the only other time Kentucky has been seeded eighth. In 1987, Ohio State pulled off a first-round upset in Atlanta, marking the only time UK has lost in the first round in its last 21 appearances (including vacated 1988 appearance).
Tickets for the first and second rounds are available first for K-Fund members with an order deadline of Monday, March 12 at 4 p.m. Donors who receive tickets will be contacted via email or phone on Tuesday, March 13. Any unclaimed donor tickets will be sold to the general public on Tuesday, March 13 at 9:00 am. Tickets are still available through the United Center as well by calling (312) 455-4667 or by visiting www.unitedcenter.com.
Kentucky will also hold a student ticket lottery on Monday, March 12 at 5 p.m. at the UK Ticket Office (now located in the Joe Craft Center, directly behind Memorial Coliseum). Tickets will be $76 per session, and students will receive a voucher to redeem for tickets at the tournament site. Students must pay $76 for the first session at the lottery. Only full-time UK students with a valid Wildcard ID are eligible for the ticket lottery. Please call the UK Ticket Office at (859) 257-1818 for further information.
The Southeastern Conference garnered five bids overall, including No. 1 overall seed Florida, the defending national champion. Tennessee earned the No. 5-seed in the South Region while Vanderbilt and Arkansas earned the No. 6 and No. 12 seeds, respectively, in the East Region.
Florida is joined by the Jayhawks, North Carolina and Ohio State as the four number one seeds.
The tournament culminates with the Final Four, which will be held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga.