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By LARRY VAUGHT
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi said Wednesday that Kentucky remains as one of the “last four teams in” and would open NCAA Tournament play in one of the play-in games in Dayton either Tuesday or Wednesday if the tournament started today.
Lunardi and former coach Seth Greenberg, now an ESPN analyst, were part of a national conference call Wednesday and my question to them was where Kentucky would be as of today.
“There must be a decrease in market share for Kentucky because we have gone 23 minutes without a Kentucky question,” Lunardi said. “We are not doing due justice to the Big Blue Nation without touching on Kentucky. Thank you for holding on.”
He said he had seen viewpoints “all over the map” on Kentucky since the injury to Nerlens Noel. UK is 4-3 with wins over Florida and Missouri after Noel went down with his knee injury but lost decisively at Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia.
“I have them in Dayton for the time being,” Lunardi said.
He said no final decision would be made until after UK plays either Vanderbilt or Arkansas Friday night in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville.
“I would not want to see Kentucky lose that game from a Kentucky standpoint or that would bring all that about what team are they now away from home without Noel,” Lunardi said. “If they win on Friday, I am convinced they are in. If they lose on Friday, it will be a conversation (about the tournament) for the next 48 hours.”
Greenburg believes Kentucky should be in. He feels the SEC has been a “little maligned” with nine teams in the top 100 of the RPI.
“Kentucky played its best basketball without Nerlens Noel. Their two best wins (Florida and Missouri) came without Nerlens,” Greenburg said. “They have shown the ability beat very good teams without him. When you look at the total picture, don’t you think they are deserving?”
Lunardi countered by noting he had Tennessee as the “first team out” of the NCAA field and that the Vols beat UK by 30 points in Kentucky’s first game without Noel.
“I don’t think they are a lock at this point (to be in the NCAA),” Lunardi said. “We’ve never really been in a situation with such a key guy going down with a number of games remaining.”
Lunardi did say if he had to bet, he would think Kentucky would “slip in” the tournament and he would not be surprised to find UK starting in a play-in game in Dayton.
“I know the city of Dayton is ready to explode if that happens,” Lunardi said.