Kentucky Wildcats in Danger of Missing NCAA Tournament

By James F.

The Kentucky Wildcats ran roughshod over college basketball a year ago, making their second straight trip to the Final Four and third in a row to the Elite Eight under head coach John Calipari before winning the national championship with a win over the Kansas Jayhawks. In each of those three years, the Kats were led significantly by freshmen who played one year and then went on to the NBA. Calipari was heavily criticized for his recruiting and even encouraging these “one-and-done” players, but after last year’s tam lost only twice all year, it appeared he had found the winning formula. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the top two players picked in the draft and Marquis Teague was also selected in the first round as a freshman along with sophomore Terrance Jones.

Nobody seemed to be concerned though as Calipari hauled in yet another class of blue-chips for this season with Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein to get the Kats back to the Final Four again this year. But UK fans are learning that not all #1 ranked recruiting classes are created equal. This team is talented but they are playing very young, especially against their toughest opponents. Kentucky’s best win so far would probably be the Maryland Terrapins, who they beat on opening night 72-69. Since then the Kats have lost to the Duke Blue Devils, Notre Dame Fightin Irish, Baylor Bears, Louisville Cardinals, Texas A&M Aggies and Alabama Crimson Tide.

Another troubling factor in UK making the NCAA Tournament is there are not may quality wins in the SEC. So far the Kats have beaten the Vanderbilt Commodores and Tennessee Volunteers, but those wins don’t have the clout they would normally as neither are very good this year.  UK is 12-6 going into Saturday’s tilt with the LSU Tigers with 13 games remaining. They have two games remaining with the #8 Florida Gators and also a game against the #22 Missouri Tigers and #23 Ole Miss Rebels. UK had better win at least one of those four games in they want to make the tournament. They also need to avoid the really bad upset loss as a couple of those could really hurt.

Why is this year’s team so average with all the talent? This year;s UK team is lacking in two main ingredients that last year’s team had. One is a really good point guard. This year’s team has Ryan Harrow running the point. He is a two-guard by trade and is learning the position. Plus they are lacking experience. Last year’s team had Darius Miller, Jones and Doron Lamb who were experienced players. This year, their one experienced player is Kyle Wiltjer who has played well, but cannot do it alone.

Now the big question is what to do with some of these freshmen like Goodwin, Poythress and Cauley-Stein who may not be NBA ready after this year. Kentucky has another monster class of incoming freshmen ready to come in for their college pit stop en route to the NBA next year. What happens if the ones from this year don’t leave? UK will certainly be talented next year, but there are only five guys who can play at a time. All of them will be expecting to get big minutes in their NBA auditions.

So maybe the “one-and-done” model does have its problems too?