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A Historical Look at Kentucky's NCAA Tournament Hopes After an Upset

Sam Gormley07/03/22


Article written by:On3 imageSam Gormley


Photo by Andy Lyons | Getty Images

Four and a half months ago, Kentucky head coach John Calipari walked off the floor in Indianapolis following one of the worst losses of his career.

Behind him, the St. Peter’s Peacocks were celebrating becoming only the 11th team to defeat a one- or a two-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Moving on from a brutal loss has been a key emphasis for the Kentucky fan base, and plenty of call-in radio shows have fielded a multitude of questions.

Does the Calipari system still work? Can he get this program back to the Final Four? Can this team “hang number nine?”

The question that also should interest some: what happened to those other 10 top seeds knocked out of the tournament early? How did they fare the season after being slain by a Cinderella?

The results are incredibly spread out, but there are some that should give at least hope to Kentucky fans.

Since 1991, 11 one- or two-seeds have lost in the opening round. The next season, only three of those teams made it to the second weekend.

Kentucky not looking to be Iowa State or Georgetown

The absolute worst-case scenario for Kentucky — and John Calipari — would be missing the tournament entirely in 2023.

For that to happen, it is probably safe to say major injury issues would have to occur, but there is precedent for teams in the past.

In 2001, Tarvis Williams hit a go-ahead jumper with 6.7 seconds left and the 15-seed Hampton Pirates stunned two-seed Iowa State 58-57. The next season was an unmitigated disaster for the Cyclones as they limped to a 12-19 finish and didn’t even sniff the NCAA tournament.

In 2013, the two-seed Georgetown Hoyas ran into the juggernaut that turned into “Dunk City” as 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast came away with a 78-68 victory; the third-largest margin for a 15-over-2 matchup in tournament history.

The Hoyas have only been back to the NCAA tournament twice since that point (2015, 2021) and finished only just barely above .500 in 2014 with an 18-15 mark.

Stats say Back-to-Back First Weekend Exits are Possible

Historically, the most prevalent result to happen is a team making it to the NCAA tournament and bowing out in the first weekend.

In the 10 previous instances, that happened five times with two of those five losing in the first round for the second straight year.

Those aforementioned two include 2013 Missouri, which lost in an 8/9 matchup to Colorado State.

The other was 1998 South Carolina which was coming off the previous year’s loss to 15-seed Coppin State. They entered the tournament as a three-seed, trying to right the wrongs of the previous year, but were stunned for the second straight year by Richmond.

The other three schools that picked up at least one win in the tournament included 1992 Syracuse, which lost to a John Calipari-led UMass team, 2017 Michigan State, which were downed by Kansas, and 2022 Ohio State, which lost to Villanova.

Could Kentucky be the Fourth to Get to the Regional and Beyond?

The results aren’t all bad if you’re a Kentucky fan looking to forget the upset from a year ago. Three teams have been able to move past the loss and find themselves in the Elite Eight or beyond the following season.

In 1993, Arizona lost to Santa Clara by three points. The next season, they finished the year 29-6 before losing to eventual national champion Arkansas in the Final Four.

A more recent example goes to a decade ago when Duke lost to Lehigh in 2012 in the first round before returning to an Elite Eight loss to Louisville in 2013. Louisville went on to win that year’s national championship, one that was later vacated.

That brings us to the final example and the one that for some Kentucky fans is the only way John Calipari could win them back.

2018 saw the tournament’s greatest upset when 16-seed UMBC took down top-seeded Virginia. The very next year, the Cavaliers returned to the dance and came away with the national championship trophy.

The questions are legitimate surrounding this year’s Kentucky team. Are they closer to 2019 Virginia or 1994 Arizona? Or do they look more like a 2002 Iowa State? Or even a 2017 Michigan State that can’t make it to the second weekend?

The positives are clear: they return unanimous National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe while adding a pair of talented freshmen in Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston.

Records may tell part of the story, but the best part about this year’s story is that John Calipari can be the author.

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