Kentucky Basketball: 5 Reasons UK Doesn't Deserve a March Madness Bid
Kentucky basketball has had ample opportunity to play its way into a March Madness bid, but time and again, the Wildcats have come up short.
Things seemed to be moving in a positive direction with a three-game winning streak that included a victory over Missouri, Kentucky’s best of the season. It was a streak that also came after Nerlens Noel’s season-ending knee injury.
Then, Kentucky went on the road and dropped two games to Arkansas and Georgia by a combined 23 points. At this point, the only way Kentucky will feel safe come Selection Sunday is if it wins the SEC tournament in Nashville.
The Wildcats don’t have anyone to blame but themselves for their predicament. They have had numerous chances to put together what would be a quality NCAA tournament resume, but Kentucky just has not gotten the job done.
It might be time to accept Kentucky for what it is, and that is an NIT team.
Here are five reasons Kentucky doesn’t deserve a March Madness bid.
5. Road Woes
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Kentucky had an excellent opportunity in its last two games to pick up a couple of solid road victories, but the Wildcats whiffed on both occasions, losing by double digits to both Arkansas and Georgia.
The Arkansas loss can be forgiven considering the Razorbacks are 17-1 at home with wins over some really good teams in Fayetteville. However, the 10-point loss at Georgia is unjustifiable. While they might be better than their record indicates, the Bulldogs lost at home to Mississippi State back in January.
Kentucky’s best road win came over Ole Miss, a victory that looked a lot more impressive at the time. The Rebels have been fading lately, and they look like an NIT team right now.
4. Scant Non-Conference Resume
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Kentucky will always schedule a tough non-conference schedule, and that was no different this year. The problem is that the Wildcats didn’t pick up any marquee victories outside the SEC.
Kentucky went 9-4 in that portion of its schedule with losses to Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame and Baylor. The first three are definite NCAA tournament teams, and the fourth was a home loss.
The Wildcats’ best win was a neutral court game against Maryland, and the Terrapins look like they are headed straight for the NIT.
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At this point in the season, John Calipari has no idea what he is going to get from most of the guys on his team, which is understandable in November but not in March.
The lone exception is Willie Cauley-Stein who seems like he is good for about 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks every night (he had 10 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks against Georgia).
Julius Mays might be the best example recently. He had the huge 24-point performance against Missouri, showing veteran leadership and coming up big in a clutch spot. However, in the last two games, Mays has scored three points on 1-of-12 shooting in 74 minutes.
Calipari hasn’t been able to count on his freshmen or the few players on his roster with prior college basketball experience.
2. Noel’s Injury
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When Nerlens Noel went down with a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 12, the popular question was how that would impact the way the selection committee viewed Kentucky once Selection Sunday rolled around. Mike Bobinski, the chair of the NCAA tournament selection committee, was pretty straightforward with his answer.
According to USA Today, Bobinski said:
The reality is we have about 4½ weeks of basketball left to be able to watch Kentucky play and to see how they perform without him in the lineup now, and that will really tell the story I think of how we ultimately judge and view Kentucky.
So far, Kentucky is 3-3 without Noel. One of the victories was the biggest win of the season, which came at home against Missouri. The other two wins also came at home against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
On the road, Kentucky lost by 30 at Tennessee, by 13 at Arkansas and by 10 at Georgia. Kentucky was a borderline tournament team with Noel, and without him, the Wildcats obviously are not as good.
1. Kentucky Is Who It Is
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Since the beginning of the season, Kentucky fans and even media members have waiting for things to click. The recent three-game winning streak that included the Missouri victory felt like maybe the Wildcats had turned a corner.
They were playing with a newfound toughness and resilience.
However, that feeling quickly faded. Facing two winnable opportunities outside of Lexington, Kentucky could not get the job done. After the latest shortcoming at Georgia, John Calipari did not mince words, according to Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal.
Said Calipari, “If this is the point we’re at, what I saw tonight, I’ve done a crap job.”