Kentucky may not have put together the kind of non-conference performance that will lock up a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
Quite frankly, the Wildcats are anything but a lock for the NCAA tournament at this point in the season, and given how weak the SEC is this year, Kentucky could be looking at a pretty low seed. In our latest bracket projection, Dave Ommen has Kentucky as an eight seed.
But sometimes, simply looking at wins and losses won’t tell you the whole story.
The Wildcats are getting better, and Ryan Harrow is a major reason why. After being a non-factor for the first month — playing in just four of Kentucky’s eight games and scoring a grand total of six points in that span — Harrow has turned into the kind of floor general that the Wildcats need out there. Over the last five games, the NC State transfer is averaging 15.0 points, 5.6 assists and 2.4 steals while turning the ball over just seven times and shooting 49.2% from the field and 46.7% from three.
“The team trusts him more now,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “He’s spending a lot of time around his teammates. In practice, he’s one of our hardest workers now. He’s got a great attitude. … He’s become that guy that we needed him to be.”
“Leading is not just walking out on the court and barking orders. Leadership is about service, and the only way you can serve others is to be around them. That’s what he’s been able to do, and I’m really proud of how far he’s come. My thing to him was: This is where we – as in I – thought you’d be at the beginning of the year. Now we’ve gotta build on this.”
The growth of this Kentucky team continues to be one of this season’s most intriguing story lines.
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Sunday’s AdvoCare Invitational title game between No. 23 Xavier and Dayton was the first meeting between the two in-state rivals since 2013, the year in which the Musketeers moved from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East. Of course the game was highly anticipated, and Xavier forward Jalen Reynolds made a powerful statement early in the first half.
What did he do? A rip-through and one dribble around Dayton’s Steve McElvene, then a one-handed dunk over Kendall Pollard with McElvene attempting to challenge the finish from behind.
Video credit: ESPN
In the midst of No. 1 Kentucky’s comfortable win over USF on Friday, sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis went down with a hyperextended right elbow. Kentucky does have two other players capable of running the point in freshmen Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe, but there’s no denying the importance of Ulis to this team.
The question now is whether or not Ulis will be available when the Wildcats host Illinois State Monday night, and there has yet to be a definitive answer. Ulis didn’t practice Sunday, and should he miss Monday’s game Kentucky loses a player who has provided (among many things) consistency at the point.
“And without Tyler now, you have to understand the last six minutes of that half and what we did the first five or six minutes of that second half, that was without Tyler. We were really good,” Calipari said Sunday. “It’s just they couldn’t sustain it. That’s what Tyler does. Tyler just keeps coming and he does not stop and he’s not going to make mistakes to let another team get back in the game. That’s the difference. That’s the experience.”
The absence of Ulis would give Murray and Briscoe more time with the ball in their hands running the point, and they’d have to do so against an Illinois State team that gave No. 2 Maryland all it wanted in Cancun earlier this week.
While Friday’s game was well in hand when Ulis was injured, the Wildcats and Bulls played to a stalemate in the final 20 minutes. Doing so against an Illinois State team expected to be a factor in the Missouri Valley Conference would be dangerous.
Following Monday’s game, Kentucky makes the trip out west to take on UCLA Thursday night.