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Could Kentucky actually be NIT bound?

Jan 23, 2013, 9:20 AM EDT

Crimson Tide Basketball Game G17 vs Kentucky Wildcats

In 2011-2012, Kentucky didn’t lose an SEC game until March 11th. It was Selection Sunday and the Wildcats lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC title game. It was Kentucky’s second loss of the season, the first of which came on Christian Watford’s memorable buzzer-beater back in December.

On Tuesday night, the 2012-2013 version of the Wildcats went into Tuscaloosa and lost their second SEC game of the season, 59-55 to the Crimson Tide. On January 22nd. In an SEC that is no where near as strong as it was a season ago. To an Alabama team that couldn’t figure out a way to beat Mercer or Tulane just nine days after the Wildcats lost at home to a Texas A&M team that lost to Southern.

I’ve defended the Wildcats all season long. I’ve said that there’s no way a team with this much talent, with four future lottery picks, can miss the tournament in a season like this with a bubble that’s projecting to be the weakest it’s ever been. All along, I’ve said there is nothing that head coach John Calipari does better than get a group of misfits to somehow figure out to work together for seven months, how to put there differences aside and buy into a role and become a team.

I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore.

And it puts Kentucky in danger of actually missing out on the NCAA tournament.

The biggest issue is that the Wildcats haven’t answered any of the question marks they had two months ago. Alex Poythress is still an enigma. He’s got the talent and the ability to absolutely dominate, to be an all-american and the perfect compliment to Kyle Wiltjer and Nerlens Noel along the front line. He just doesn’t seem to know how to take over a game or put together 40 minutes of maximum effort. Case in point: Poythress is shooting 62.1% from the floor this season, but he hasn’t taken more than nine shots in a game since Kentucky lost to Baylor on December 1st. He’s taken more than five shots in just one of Kentucky five SEC games.

Archie Goodwin is by far Kentucky’s highest-usage player, but he’s also by far their most inefficient, according to Kenpom. And even those numbers become inflated once you factor out Kentucky’s seven opponents that couldn’t crack Kenpom’s top 200. Take away those games, and he’s shooting 35.6% from the floor and 24.0% from three while his assist-to-turnover ratio drops from 1.05:1 to 0.77:1.

Willie Cauley-Stein is injured. Nerlens Noel simply isn’t a threat on the defensive end of the floor, and his ability to block shots has gotten Kentucky into lazy habits on the defensive end. Kyle Wiltjer has turned into their go-to scorer down the stretch despite the fact that asking Wiltjer to be much more than a spot-up shooter is a risk at this point in his development.

Add all of that up, and what it means is that Kentucky is now just 1-6 against the RPI top 100. That one win? Maryland, who is 64th in the RPI.

The Wildcats will get a couple of chances to land big wins during SEC play. They go home-and-home with Florida still (6th), visit Ole Miss (32nd) and host Missouri (27th). They also have the rematch with Texas A&M (57th) in College Station. And then there is the SEC tournament to think about.

So Kentucky’s not dead in the water yet.

But they currently have the profile of an NIT team, and if they don’t land a win over Florida — who looks like the best team in the country over the last two weeks — the Wildcats will probably have to win the rest of their SEC games, simply because they cannot afford a loss to a team like Tennessee (102nd), Vanderbilt (127th) or Georgia (181st) to avoid having the profile of an NIT team come Selection Sunday.

The bigger issue is what we have seen on the court.

Kentucky has looked like an NIT team. And they haven’t done anything to persuade those watching that a change is coming in the near future.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

  1. ukraiders - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    I’ve said since about the Baylor game this team wasn’t good and it my team. The biggest problem I see is Goodwin. He is NBA ready but he is a ball hog. oozes talent, but never sees a pass he likes. Had a 3 on 1 break and forced a lay up into contact. Plays to get to the line and miss his free throw. Forces too much. Always a circus shot. No production from Poythress hurts too. Its a list of things I can see from my couch. You just have to shake your head at this point. Its a shame too because Noel is playing lights out and can’t get any help.

  2. xli2006 - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    I’d like to hear from the numerous UK fans who were claiming “we’ll be #1 in a few weeks” at the beginning of the season.

    • dexterismyhero - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:01 AM

      Especially imforbigblueandiblowcoachcal!!!!!

  3. prov1x - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    Live by the freshman, die by the freshman. What happens when this group decides to stay and the next “recruiting class of the century” comes in? Last I checked there is only one ball.

  4. tomtravis76 - Jan 23, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    Only 2 seniors on the roster, what if nobody leaves early?

    • manchestermiracle - Jan 23, 2013 at 6:45 PM

      At the rate they’re going, will there be any reason for any of them to leave early?

      • Norbrook - Jan 24, 2013 at 8:17 AM

        I wonder if they let the “one and done” and “guaranteed lottery pick” hype go to their heads. I don’t expect much in the way of maturity from 18/19 year olds to begin with, so setting aside the idea that all they have to do is mark time before the big paychecks roll in isn’t easy.

        What they’re doing in terms of “producing” can’t be making many NBA scouts very happy, so they may be getting a wake-up call when draft time rolls around.

  5. wildcatvikingsguy - Jan 23, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    Cals system has worked and worked well for six years straight. Why is everyone saying this doesn’t work just because he has one bad year? It worked at Memphis, and it worked here for three years. Every school has a down year, but between last years championship and next years class, I for one find it hard to complain. It’s not going to work every year, but that’s true of any system, under any coach.

    • Troy Machir - Jan 23, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      Yeah, but wasn’t everybody saying this was the year the ‘Cats were going to get No. 9?

  6. wildcatvikingsguy - Jan 23, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    Everybody except cal. When we were preseason 3rd, he said whoever voted for that was crazy. He said we shouldn’t have been ranked at all in the preseason

  7. gostlcards5 - Jan 23, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    As a life-long Indiana fan, I have to tell you….Kentucky making the NIT would break my heart. *cough*cough*

  8. florida727 - Jan 23, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    I’m a Florida fan, but I still think Kentucky is going to the team nobody’s going to want to play when March rolls around. People that “hate” Kentucky will be rooting hard for them NOT to get into the NCAA Tournament for that exact reason… they’ll be afraid their team will have to play them. Calipari will get the ship righted. He always has in the past, and he always will in the future. You count them out at your own peril. They’re the champ until they’re beaten and no longer the champ. I want my favorite team to beat them, but I respect them. I still think they’re scary.

    • gostlcards5 - Jan 23, 2013 at 3:19 PM

      Totally agree with you, and as a general rule, I don’t hate or root against any team. I don’t care for Calipari (he comes off like a used-car salesman). However, generally this team does have high-caliber talent, and even if they aren’t seeming to put it together now, it doesn’t mean they won’t. My above comment was more of facetious intent.

      By the way, I went to IU-UK in the Hoosier Dome in 1995 (Damon Bailey’s senior year, as well as my own at another Indiana college)….the atmosphere was awesome! Half red/half blue….electric! Probably the best fan sporting experience of my life.

  9. ifrinstructor - Jan 23, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    Rob Dauster as a writer is an idiot who does not know the difference between there and their.

  10. Jeff - Jan 23, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    It would be a shame if Kentucky didn’t make the NCAA tourney. John Calipari is such a likeable guy…

  11. manchestermiracle - Jan 23, 2013 at 6:47 PM

    Does this mean the CBT staff is replacing UCLA with Kentucky as their most disappointing team of the year?

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