Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After Texas A&M embarrassment, is No. 24 Kentucky in danger of missing the NCAA tournament?

2 Comments

This has been a trying season for No. 24 Kentucky, easily the most difficult of Coach Cal’s tenure in Lexington.

If you want to put the the 2013 team into that conversation, you can, but remember: They were in the low-20s on KenPom when they lost the anchor of their defense, Nerlens Noel, to a torn ACL in late February. That season was tough, and it ended with a first round exit in the NIT, but the cause was some bad luck and a poorly-placed basket stanchion in Gainesville.

It’s different for this group.

They’re young, they don’t have a star and they just so happen to have been throw into what may be the toughest SEC that we’ve seen since Tubby Smith was still in Lexington. That was three jobs ago for the current Memphis head coach.

So I get it.

That they struggled, that they’ve taken some lumps in SEC play is anything-but unexpected.

It’s the degree to which they’ve struggled that has surprised people, but it wasn’t until the second half of Kentucky’s 85-74 pounding at Texas A&M that the Wildcats finally looked like their spirit had been broken. After taking a 30-26 lead into the half in College Station, Kentucky was hit with a tidal wave to open the second half. The Aggies went on a 36-9 run, and by the end of it Kentucky looked like they wanted no part of being on the floor.

To their credit, they did make a run towards respectability once the game was no longer in doubt, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Wildcats have now lost three straight. It would have been four straight, but Vanderbilt gave the Wildcats a gift in Rupp Arena, missing free throws down the stretch and committing a foul 70-feet from the rim with two seconds left while up by two. With a 17-8 record and a 6-6 mark in the SEC, the question Kentucky fans keep asking is whether or not this team is heading back to the NIT.

And if the season ended today, they would not be.

Not even close.

Every day, I write a column called Bubble Banter. Every day, I sit here and stare at the NCAA tournament résumés of the teams that are hoping to get a sniff of the NCAA tournament. You want a taste of what that looks like? Let’s go with UCLA, who owns a win over Kentucky. The Bruins are 17-8 on the season with an RPI of 53. They 2-4 against Quadrant 1 opponents with their best wins coming against Kentucky on a neutral and at Arizona, and 3-3 against Quadrant 2 with a loss in a Quadrant 3 game, at Oregon State (174).

Kentucky?

They’re also 17-8 on the season and they are now 2-5 against Quadrant 1 opponents, with those wins coming over Texas A&M at home and at West Virginia. But the Wildcats are still a top 20 team in the RPI. They don’t have a loss outside of Quadrant 2, and their three Quadrant 2 losses aren’t exactly embarrassing. UCLA picked them off on a neutral, South Carolina beat them in Columbia and Florida won in Rupp Arena. The UCLA and South Carolina losses could bump up to Quadrant 1 in those two teams win a few more games down the stretch.

Kentucky also has seven wins over Quadrant 2 teams, which is four more than the Bruins. And this three-game losing streak that they’re on? They all came against teams in the top 25 of the RPI, and two of those came on the road. This streak looks much, much worse in real time than it does an an NCAA tournament résumé.

Heading into today, Kentucky was a No. 5 seed in our latest bracket, which was updated on Friday. I can’t imagine a loss at Texas A&M, who is 17th in the RPI, would change that all that much.

That’s not to say that Kentucky is a lock for the dance.

Hardly.

Their stretch run looks like this: at Auburn, Alabama, at Arkansas, Missouri (with Michael Porter Jr.?), Ole Miss, at Florida. Four of those six games are Quadrant 1. Only Ole Miss is Quadrant 3. Adding a bad loss to their profile would not help. If the Wildcats don’t right this ship, going 2-4 or 1-5 down the stretch is certainly a possibility. That would be bad, too.

Put another way, Kentucky needs to figure this mess out. And fast.

But it’s not because they are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament at this moment.

It’s because falling out of the dance from where they are on February 10th would be quite an achievement, and quite the embarrassment.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

Photo by David Becker/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Leave a comment

Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

Eric Espada/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?