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

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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.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”

Arizona releases non-conference schedule

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A trip to Maui, a home date against Baylor and trips to UConn and Alabama highlight Arizona’s non-conference schedule, which the school released Thursday, this season.

Despite losing nearly the entirety of last year’s talented-but-troubled group, Sean Miller still scheduled aggressively. The first test will come the week of Thanksgiving in Hawaii at the Maui Invitational. It’s an extremely competitive field with Duke, Auburn, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Illinois, San Diego State and Xavier. The bracket for the event has yet to be released.

The Wildcats travel to Storrs to face UConn in Dan Hurley’s first season on Dec. 2, and then a week later visit Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The marquee home game will be Saturday, Dec. 16, when Scott Drew and Baylor come to Tucson.

Here’s the full schedule:

Day Date Opponent Location

Sunday Nov. 11 Cal Poly Tucson, Ariz.

Wednesday Nov. 14 UTEP Tucson, Ariz.

Monday Nov. 19 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Tuesday Nov. 20 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Wednesday Nov. 21 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Wednesday Nov. 28 Texas Southern Tucson, Ariz.

Sunday Dec. 2 at UConn Hartford, Conn.

Thursday Dec. 6 Utah Valley Tucson, Ariz.

Sunday Dec. 9 at Alabama Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Saturday Dec. 15 Baylor Tucson, Ariz.

Wednesday Dec. 19 Montana Tucson, Ariz.

Saturday Dec. 22 UC Davis Tucson, Ariz.