Mar 15, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats team members watch the final moments of a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament at Bridgestone Arena. The Commodores beat the Wildcats 64-48. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats Seal NIT Fate, NCAA Tournament Hopes Dashed


So much for that top-five preseason ranking, lionized recruiting class and chirpings about a return trip to “Catlanta.”

The Calipari Cycle has hit a snag in the glow of last year’s bar-raising championship run. After the NBA raided the Lexington cupboard in June of last year, the Wildcats have since restocked the shelves with the latest batch of A-list prep talent. Only this collection has yet to validate its artificially inflated reputation. And if Friday’s 16-point loss to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament was revealing, these baby Cats have likely run out of lives in which to make their case.

Kentucky is going the way of 2010 North Carolina, the last reigning national champion to miss out on the NCAA tournament in its title defense season. The Tar Heels, too, lost the vital organs of their title-winning team, ushered in a recruiting class presumed capable of filling the void and then leeched off a preseason reputation owed to the team that came before it.

Short on quality wins and lacking visual credibility since losing shot-blocking ace Nerlens Noel for the season, Calipari’s young team needed to avoid a stigmatizing loss in Nashville to legitimize its NCAA tournament candidacy. Truth be told, the Cats probably needed another signature win or two to boot. No dice. UK struck out on the wins and will trudge home instead with a scarlet letter marring its portfolio.

View the team’s resume yourself. The arrows in the right-hand column represent how Kentucky stacks up with other bubble teams in each criterion. The upward arrow signifies “better than the average bubble team,” the downward arrow denotes worse and the lateral two-way arrow suggests UK is about on par with the field.

 

Overall Record

21-11

Conference Record

12-6

Conference RPI Rank

#8

Team RPI

#48

Strength of Schedule

#61

Non-Conference SOS

#54

Home

16-2

Away

4-7

Neutral

1-2

Record vs. RPI Top 25

1-3

Record vs. RPI Top 50

2-4

Record vs. RPI Top 100

7-9

Last 10 Games

5-5

Best Win

vs. Florida (Home)

Worst Loss

@ Georgia

Compounding Big Blue’s bleak tournament prospects are the team’s struggles in the absence of its phenom center. The Wildcats are 4-5 since Noel went down for the season with a torn knee ligament. All four of those wins were at Rupp.

Kentucky notched two lonesome wins away from home against the RPI Top 100. The better of the two wins — a pasting of Ole Miss in Oxford — required a school-record 12 blocked shots from Noel. The other came way back in the season opener, a three-point triumph over Maryland in front of a pro-Kentucky crowd in Brooklyn.

The Wildcats have done their best work this season at home, against NIT competition and with a familiar high-top fade occupying the paint. They’ll have a chance to punctuate their season in kind, if only with a little less hair inside.

The NIT is calling the defending national champs, which means reasonable talk of a title returning to Lexington may finally begin.

Is Kentucky deserving of an NCAA tournament at-large bid?

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  • Bryant Douglass

    Glad to see one and done bite cal in the butt.