OK, so maybe I was wrong.
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Maybe this team won't rally after the season-ending injury to the 'Cats' best player, Nerlens Noel. I still feel that it's too early to adequately assess this group in the post-Noel Era, but it's difficult to imagine this team getting it together in time for the Feb. 23 home contest against Missouri. That's just a week away -- and it's a game that John Calipari's team desperately needs in order to make a valid case for NCAA tourney inclusion.
I made a wager with my colleague, Gary Parrish. If Kentucky wins the SEC tourney, I get to take some clippers live on Tim Brando's television show and shave that brutal haircut. If the 'Cats don't win the league tournament, Parrish gets to pick my Avatar on twitter for the entire NCAA tourney. It sounded like a ton of fun to deliver a bunch of nick nacks (I've never used clippers before) on Parrish's dome, but now it appears far-fetched. Now I'm caught wondering which day in March it'll be Justin Bieber as my twitter photo.
My thought process was this team couldn't get much worse -- and Noel's teammates would respond after watching their star go down for the year. Alex Poythress would finally step up, Willie Cauley-Stein would step in -- and Calipari, a master at mind games, would find a way to push the right buttons to motivate this emotion-less squad. Maybe Ryan Harrow would even regain his swagger.
I was wrong.
Kentucky got pummeled in Knoxville -- almost from start to finish. It was utter humiliation. Alex Poythress and Ryan Harrow didn't have any fight. Again. Archie Goodwin doesn't have much feel for the game. And while Noel wasn't much of a threat on the offensive end, he was far more effective than Cauley-Stein -- who is still raw on both ends of the court. Kentucky got punched by the Vols -- and didn't punch back. The score at the break was 50-26, and the final margin was 30 points.
Poythress and Harrow combined for 10 fouls and just four total points. This group doesn't boast a point guard who can direct the offense and get guys easy buckets -- and it's also a complete mess on the defensive end. Tennessee made 58 percent of its shots in the thrashing. There's no leadership and also a lack of depth on this team.
Time is running out on the 2012-13 edition of the Kentucky Wildcats. Big Blue Nation understood how special that young group was from a year ago, the one led by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but never more so than Saturday. Poythress and Goodwin were considered one-and-done players coming into Lexington. NBA folks will likely still take them somewhere in the first round of June's NBA Draft, but both should return to school. They aren't ready for the NBA. Heck, they aren't even ready to play a major role at Kentucky right now.
Opportunities remain for this Kentucky team that is 17-8 overall, 8-4 in a brutal SEC and without a true resume victory (a road win at Ole Miss is its so-called signature win). The Wildcats need to beat either Missouri or Florida, in the regular-season finale, at Rupp -- and then do some damage in the SEC tourney.
I was so excited to watch Parrish look like Mr. Clean in April. My confidence isn't completely gone, but it's wavering.