But how? How can that be? With Kentucky, a fringe tournament team, taking a loss against NIT-bound Arkansas, why doesn't this hurt the Wildcats' chances?
Because, in my humble estimation, the scenario has been the same for Kentucky since Nerlens Noel was lost for the year. It's more about good wins than run-of-the-mill losses for UK. The team needs to show it can rack up another quality win or two. At the time of Noel's injury, UK had seven SEC games remaining on the regular-season schedule. Factor in one SEC tourney game at least, and that's eight games, minimally. I thought UK would need six wins in that stretch to make claim to/have a chance at a bid.
And after falling 73-60 at Arkansas on Saturday afternoon, Kentucky is 3-2 since Noel's injury. So three more wins are still required, regardless of how they come. This all remains unchanged from where Kentucky sat Saturday morning, earlier this week, even 10 days ago. Compile the wins, boys.
Next up, the Wildcats have a road game against Georgia (I'm not sure how tricky this one will be; Georgia did beat Tennessee at home on Saturday, though) and then finish up the slate next Saturday at home against Florida. Then comes the SEC tournament. One win there could be enough. Two would close the discussion. UK would be in, because it would, by nature, bypass other fringe teams in the process.
Still, UK fans, plenty of them, are frustrated after this one against Arkansas. It was a high-turnover affair and another disappearing act for Alex Poythress and Julius Mays. The point guard play was ... shoddy. Archie Goodwin, who's from Little Rock, had a homecoming that went a bit awry. He had 14 points but overall lacked impact to keep Kentucky apace with the Hogs.
I know plenty of other Wildcats fans have long given up on this team in the big picture because they're frustrated with the way they play. (I know some of them personally.) Today is a reminder of that. But those still clinging to hope for some NCAA success, it's out there. It's just going to take three more wins.
Lose at Georgia? Then you'd better beat Florida and reach the SEC semis. Beat Georgia but lose to Florida? Do the same. But win the next two? One SEC tourney victory should carry enough coin to buy Kentucky's way into the bracket. The NCAA tournament is always better when Kentucky's in it. It has only missed the tourney once since 1991 (2009), and I personally don't see reason why 2009 will be repeated. I think Kentucky squeezes its way in -- barely.
Just don't lose to Georgia on Thursday.
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