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Undefeated Kentucky heavily favored to win it all

Willie Cauley-Stein #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates

Willie Cauley-Stein #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates with the trophy on the court with his teammates after defeating the Arkansas Razorbacks 78-63 in the championship game of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 15, 2015 in Nashville, Tenn. Credit: Getty Images / Andy Lyons

The 68-team NCAA Tournament bracket announced on Selection Sunday could best be described as Kentucky and The Field. The 34-0 Wildcats are the prohibitive favorite to become the first undefeated NCAA champion since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers turned the trick.

After Kentucky wrapped up the SEC Tournament title with a 15-point win over Arkansas on Sunday, the players dispatched team managers to cut down the nets. After losing to Connecticut in the national championship game last season, the Wildcats want nothing less than to win it all April 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

"Those aren't the nets we're really looking to cut down,'' junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. "It's just a milestone. We're looking for something bigger. We're looking to cut down a couple more nets in the tournament.''

The selection committee made Kentucky the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and placed the Wildcats in the Midwest Regional. The other No. 1 seeds are Duke (South), Big East regular-season and tournament champion Villanova (East) and Big Ten regular-season and tournament champion Wisconsin (West). Duke is the first team to be a top seed without winning a conference regular-season or tournament title since 2009, when Connecticut and Pitt did it.

"It was discussed,'' said Scott Barnes, who is chairman of the selection committee. "Those were very elite wins on the road [by Duke], and the eye test was significant.''

Barnes added, "We felt there were six teams with resumes worthy of the first line.''

The next two under consideration were Pac-12 regular-season and tournament champ Arizona, which is the second seed in the West, and ACC regular-season champion Virginia, which is seeded second in the East.

Kentucky opens with a second-round game against the winner of a First Four game between Hampton (16-17) and MAAC Tournament champion Manhattan (19-13).

Coach John Calipari knows his team's undefeated record is no guarantee of success. Just last season, the Wildcats knocked off 35-0 Wichita State in the Round of 32. Two other teams have entered the tournament undefeated since 1976, including Indiana State, which lost the 1979 title game to Michigan State, and UNLV, which lost to Duke in the 1991 national semifinals.

"It is a one-game shot, and everyone's record is the same,'' Calipari said in an ESPN interview. "I think I have the best team and I have the best players. Does that mean we'll win? No, it doesn't.''

The biggest news locally was St. John's (21-11) earning its first NCAA bid since 2011. The Red Storm is seeded ninth in the South Regional and opens with a second-round game in Charlotte, North Carolina, against San Diego State (26-8), which was the regular-season co-champ of the Mountain West but was upset in the tournament final by Wyoming.

St. John's coach Steve Lavin on Sunday announced a two-week suspension of center Chris Obekpa for a violation of team rules. Barnes said the committee was informed of the suspension Saturday night.

"It did not impact their selection, but it impacted their seeding slightly,'' Barnes said. "There was a lot of conversation about it, being that he was a starter, their big man inside, a shot-blocker and good rebounder. It dropped them a couple of lines on the [overall] seed list.''

Barnes meant the Red Storm would have been in an 8-9 game either way, but its true seed (1-68) dropped a couple of notches.

St. John's and Villanova were among six Big East teams to make the field, including fourth-seeded Georgetown and three sixth-seeded teams: Butler, Providence and Xavier. It was an exceptionally strong showing for the 10-team conference in its second year, tying the ACC for third behind the Big Ten and Big 12, which each received seven bids.


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