Top-seeded Kentucky upset by Robert Morris in first round of NIT

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Kentucky missed out on the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday and now, one game into the NIT, they’ve been sent home.

The No. 1-seeded Wildcats turned the ball over 14 times and fell to No. 8 Robert Morris, 59-57, at the Sewall Center in Coraopolis, Pa., Tuesday.

With nine seconds to play, Robert Morris was set to in-bound from the left corner on the baseline under its basket. Robert Morris coach Andy Toole drew up a play that caught Kentucky freshman Alex Poythress out of position with the basket left open. Center Willie Cauley-Stein was able to block the first Robert Morris layup attempt, but fouled junior Mike McFadden on the putback.

McFadden sank both free throws and Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer was unable to hit what would have been a game-winning three in the final seconds. Robert Morris made all 14 of its free throws on the night and was +5 in turnover margin.

The loss ends what has been a tumultuous season for Kentucky, one year after winning the national championship. It seemed coach John Calipari was unable to bring all of the new pieces together for this team as he had last season and the two years prior. But to compare this year’s team to the national championship team, as convenient as the argument may because of the common factor of youth, is not fair.

Calipari’s team should be evaluated on a sliding scale of youth. For as “young” as Kentucky was, led by Player of the Year Anthony Davis last year, then-sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb had played significant minutes during their freshman seasons and were veterans comparatively. Darius Miller was the senior anchor to the entire operation and guard play was more consistent.

Losing Nerlens Noel in the middle of the conference season certainly didn’t help this year’s Kentucky team, either. It was one more major adjustment for a team that had had problems doing just that throughout the season.

We are still yet to see how many of these players will stick around for another year in Lexington. If he is to pursue what is in his best interest, Nerlens Noel will enter the NBA draft and is all but a lock for the Top 5. Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin are both projected to be first round picks by DraftExpress.com, meaning they would receive guaranteed contracts if they were selected.

Calipari already has a stellar recruiting class lined up for 2013 and may not be done yet. The nation’s best player, Andrew Wiggins, has the Wildcats on his final list, as does top prospect Julius Randle.

For as painful as this season was for Kentucky, it will be rinse and repeat in the off-season. If a few key players return next year, added to the top-level recruits slated to come to Lexington, this 2012-13 campaign may feel like a distant memory by the midway point of next season.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_