Kentucky not an NCAA tournament team -- right now

By Jeff Goodman | College Basketball Insider
Kentucky is now in a dicey spot, playing in a weak league with few chances to up its RPI. (US Presswire)

Kentucky isn't NCAA tournament-worthy. Not right now.

The Wildcats barely got past Vanderbilt on the road earlier in the week and followed up the near-loss with a home setback against a mediocre Texas A&M team on Saturday.

John Calipari's team is now 10-5 overall with a single quality win on its resume -- the season-opener in Brooklyn against a non-ranked Maryland team. Let's face it: If the name on the resume wasn't Kentucky, these guys wouldn't even be in the equation right now. The wins -- besides Maryland -- are as follows: Lafayette, Morehead State, LIU-Brooklyn, Samford, Portland, Lipscomb, Marshall, Eastern Michigan and Vandy. All except for Maryland and Vanderbilt have come at Rupp.

The previous four losses were legit: Duke down in Atlanta, Notre Dame in South Bend, Baylor at home and down the road at Louisville.

But to Texas A&M in Rupp?

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Elston Turner erupted for 40, the most points at Rupp for an opposing player in nearly 23 years, which tells a bit about Kentucky's defense. Turner is a big-time scorer, but he's also the guy you game-plan for when you go up against Texas A&M. Billy Kennedy's team is a likely NIT squad -- and it just walked into Rupp Arena and knocked off a team that features four future lottery picks by a dozen points.

Kentucky entered the game ranked 53rd in the RPI and 10th in KenPom.com (which is predictive). Texas A&M was 56th in the RPI and 107th in KenPom.com.

What's worse than a lack of good wins? The lack of having more chances to get them. Missouri and Florida are likely to be the only SEC teams that provide any legitimacy to Kentucky's resume the rest of the way, and UK only gets one shot this season against Mizzou (Feb. 23 at Rupp).

Fortunately, it's such a bad bubble (right now, anyway), that Kentucky is probably going to be able to make a run and turn itself into a tournament team. If it can manage a top-three record in the SEC, it's hard to figure how UK wouldn't make the tournament. But the fact we're even discussing this on Jan. 12, nine months removed from UK winning it all, says something big -- and clearly unexpected.

The other dose of good news for Kentucky fans is that this team will improve. The Cats have four freshmen among their top seven players, and point guard Ryan Harrow has been a bright spot in recent weeks after taking time away from the team early in the year. But what Harrow doesn't do especially well is make others better -- and that's what this group sorely lacks. Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein are long athletes that get their points off activity -- and rarely on the low block. Alex Poythress is still struggling to find himself. And this team doesn't have any leadership.

We knew this team wouldn't be on par with the special national championship squad, but we also didn't anticipate the Wildcats nearly starting the SEC slate with losses to Vandy and Texas A&M. There's still hope for a dejected Big Blue Nation. There's a reason why NBA folks have all four of Noel, Poythress, Goodwin and Cauley-Stein projected as likely lottery picks.

But right now, it's hard to argue against this: These guys are playing like an NIT team.

 
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