Crimson Tide Basketball Game G17 vs Kentucky Wildcats

Could Kentucky actually be NIT bound?


In 2011-2012, Kentucky didn’t lose an SEC game until March 11th. It was Selection Sunday and the Wildcats lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC title game. It was Kentucky’s second loss of the season, the first of which came on Christian Watford’s memorable buzzer-beater back in December.

On Tuesday night, the 2012-2013 version of the Wildcats went into Tuscaloosa and lost their second SEC game of the season, 59-55 to the Crimson Tide. On January 22nd. In an SEC that is no where near as strong as it was a season ago. To an Alabama team that couldn’t figure out a way to beat Mercer or Tulane just nine days after the Wildcats lost at home to a Texas A&M team that lost to Southern.

I’ve defended the Wildcats all season long. I’ve said that there’s no way a team with this much talent, with four future lottery picks, can miss the tournament in a season like this with a bubble that’s projecting to be the weakest it’s ever been. All along, I’ve said there is nothing that head coach John Calipari does better than get a group of misfits to somehow figure out to work together for seven months, how to put there differences aside and buy into a role and become a team.

I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore.

And it puts Kentucky in danger of actually missing out on the NCAA tournament.

The biggest issue is that the Wildcats haven’t answered any of the question marks they had two months ago. Alex Poythress is still an enigma. He’s got the talent and the ability to absolutely dominate, to be an all-american and the perfect compliment to Kyle Wiltjer and Nerlens Noel along the front line. He just doesn’t seem to know how to take over a game or put together 40 minutes of maximum effort. Case in point: Poythress is shooting 62.1% from the floor this season, but he hasn’t taken more than nine shots in a game since Kentucky lost to Baylor on December 1st. He’s taken more than five shots in just one of Kentucky five SEC games.

Archie Goodwin is by far Kentucky’s highest-usage player, but he’s also by far their most inefficient, according to Kenpom. And even those numbers become inflated once you factor out Kentucky’s seven opponents that couldn’t crack Kenpom’s top 200. Take away those games, and he’s shooting 35.6% from the floor and 24.0% from three while his assist-to-turnover ratio drops from 1.05:1 to 0.77:1.

Willie Cauley-Stein is injured. Nerlens Noel simply isn’t a threat on the defensive end of the floor, and his ability to block shots has gotten Kentucky into lazy habits on the defensive end. Kyle Wiltjer has turned into their go-to scorer down the stretch despite the fact that asking Wiltjer to be much more than a spot-up shooter is a risk at this point in his development.

Add all of that up, and what it means is that Kentucky is now just 1-6 against the RPI top 100. That one win? Maryland, who is 64th in the RPI.

The Wildcats will get a couple of chances to land big wins during SEC play. They go home-and-home with Florida still (6th), visit Ole Miss (32nd) and host Missouri (27th). They also have the rematch with Texas A&M (57th) in College Station. And then there is the SEC tournament to think about.

So Kentucky’s not dead in the water yet.

But they currently have the profile of an NIT team, and if they don’t land a win over Florida — who looks like the best team in the country over the last two weeks — the Wildcats will probably have to win the rest of their SEC games, simply because they cannot afford a loss to a team like Tennessee (102nd), Vanderbilt (127th) or Georgia (181st) to avoid having the profile of an NIT team come Selection Sunday.

The bigger issue is what we have seen on the court.

Kentucky has looked like an NIT team. And they haven’t done anything to persuade those watching that a change is coming in the near future.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.