Seven things you need to know from No. 6 seed Kentucky’s 75-69 loss to No. 3 seed Kansas State in the men’s NCAA Tournament’s East Region round of 32 at Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina:
1. Kentucky’s thin margin of error catches up to it. Due to injuries and other factors, Kentucky was essentially playing five players by the end of the season.
That meant the Wildcats pretty much needed four of those five to play well to beat good teams.
On Sunday, UK got strong performances from star Oscar Tshiebwe (25 points, 18 rebounds) and freshmen Cason Wallace (21 points, nine rebounds, four assists) and Chris Livingston (11 points, seven rebounds, two assists).
However, Kentucky’s other two core players, Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves had rough goes.
Reeves, who had been averaging 22 points a game over UK’s prior six contests, shot 1-of-15, 1-of-10 on three-pointers, and did not score until there were 15 seconds left in the game. He finished with five points.
Toppin, who had averaged 16.5 points and nine rebounds over the prior six games, fouled out after going 1-of-7 from the field. He finished with two points and four rebounds.
2. Two more “out-of-nowhere” threes. It seemed like all season opponents threw in crazy three-point shots in crucial moments against Kentucky.
So, in that context, what happened to UK on Sunday with its season hanging in the balance was appropriate.
With UK up 62-61, Kansas State reserve forward Ismael Massoud buried a trey to put K-State ahead to stay, 64-62, at 2:15.
On Kansas State’s ensuing possession, forward Keyontae Johnson, the former Florida star, drained a three from the right wing to push the lead to 67-62 and deliver what was, essentially, the dagger to UK’s season.
Before that shot, Johnson had been 0-of-3 on treys.
3. Kansas State knocks UK out of another “open bracket.” In the first weekend of the 2023 NCAA tourney, the East Region has “opened up” with No. 1 seed Purdue and two teams many analysts liked as dark-horse Final Four candidates — No. 5 seed Duke and No. 8 Memphis — already out.
Had Kentucky been able to advance, it would have had viable Final Four aspirations. Instead, it is the “purple Wildcats,” not the blue ones, who will go to Madison Square Garden this week.
This is the second time in the past four NCAA Tournaments when Kentucky appeared to be in a bracket breaking favorably for it only to see K-State take UK out. In 2018, No. 4 Kentucky was the highest-seeded team to get to the Sweet 16 only to be upset by No. 9 seed Kansas State 61-58 in Atlanta.
4. Marquee point-guard showdown. The matchup between veteran Kansas State point guard Markquis Nowell and UK freshman Cason Wallace more than lived up to expectations.
The 6-foot-4, 193-pound Wallace scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half and gave UK its last lead, 62-61, on a follow shot at 2:42.
The 5-8, 160-pound Nowell was stellar in his own right, accounting for 27 points, nine assists and three steals.
A magician with the ball, Nowell doled out some highlight-reel assists while consistently delivering clutch baskets for the winners.
5. Calipari’s NCAA magic waning. With Kentucky’s loss to Kansas State, John Calipari is now 8-2 as UK head man in NCAA tourney round-of-32 contests.
Before Sunday, Calipari’s only defeat in such a game as Kentucky coach came to Indiana, 73-67, in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
In the NCAA Tournament, Calipari is now 32-10 as UK coach. In his first five NCAA tourney trips as top Cat, Calipari went 22-4. He is 10-6 since 2016.
6. Cats miss chance to catch UNC. The loss to Kansas State means Kentucky held at 130 NCAA Tournament victories all-time. UK remains behind only North Carolina (131) for the most NCAA tourney wins ever.
Going into last year’s Big Dance, Kentucky led North Carolina 129-126 in NCAA Tournament wins. However, the Wildcats lost to Saint Peter’s in the round of 64 while the Tar Heels won five times and finished as the national runner-up.
This season, of course, North Carolina failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
7. Oscar watch. With 25 points and 18 rebounds Sunday, Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe finished the season with 1,117 points and 952 rebounds in his two-season UK career.
Tshiebwe stands No. 48 on Kentucky’s all-time scoring list behind No. 47 Randolph Morris (1,123), No. 46 Wah Wah Jones (1,151) and No. 45 Vernon Hatton (1,153).
On the all-time Kentucky rebounding list, Tshiebwe passed Kenny Walker (942) for No. 6.
Now with 48 double-doubles in his UK career, Tshiebwe is tied with Cotton Nash (48) for second on the all-time list. Dan Issel (64) is first.
Tshiebwe has another season of eligibility available if he chooses to use it.
Kentucky’s basketball season is over. Here’s who’s likely to go, who might return to UK.
Box score from Kentucky basketball’s 75-69 loss to Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament
Kansas State comeback ousts Kentucky from NCAA Tournament, ending the Wildcats’ season