Busting Brackets

Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats find themselves in unfamiliar territory

Jan 16, 2021; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Devin Askew (2) is pressured by Auburn Tigers guard Jamal Johnson (1) during the second half at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 16, 2021; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Devin Askew (2) is pressured by Auburn Tigers guard Jamal Johnson (1) during the second half at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports /

Since 1933, one men’s basketball team has ruled the SEC. Yes, other teams brief experienced moments at the top. However, no SEC team comes close to the number of regular-season championships and conference championships Kentucky Basketball has won.

Throughout the past 88, Kentucky flexed their muscles as the top SEC team during the regular season 49 times. Just last season was the last time it happened. In terms of the number of regular-season championships, LSU ranks second in the conference with just 11. The Wildcats hold 31 SEC Conference Championships. The next closest team in that category is Alabama with six. When looking to label a supreme organization throughout the conference’s history, no debate exists. It is the Kentucky Wildcats.

However, in this particular rendition of a college basketball season, Kentucky is far from its usual self. Before the first tip-off of the 2020-21 NCAA basketball campaign, the Wildcats ranked comfortably at 10. Like every other year, they were viewed as a final four contender. Now 13 games in, Kentucky sits in an unfamiliar spot. With the inferior teams in their respective conference.

Incredibly enough, Kentucky sits seventh in the SEC with a 3-3 conference record. Their overall record is an astonishing 4-9. Again, not what we’ve grown to expect from the usual powerhouse of the conference. Their latest loss, a 63-62 to Georgia, was the icing on the cake, and the Wildcats have hit a new level of low.

How did we get here? How could a team so used to being close to the top every year, and projected to be there again, be experiencing such a free-fall? Are they really this bad?

Kentucky’s resume this season shows four unimpressive wins against the poor-to-subpar competition. Defeating Morehead State won’t necessarily bring in the brownie points. Close victories against Mississippi St. and Vanderbilt won’t do it either. The only somewhat respectful win comes from their beatdown of Florida. At the same time, Florida has been one of the toughest teams to figure out this season.

The Wildcats find themselves consistently struggling to produce enough points to secure victories. Their 67 points per game prevent them from really running up the score on anyone. That allows teams, such as Georgia last Wednesday, to stick around and keep fighting.

In past years, Kentucky didn’t mind playing the close game because there was always a player to lean on and get them through the battle. A clutch shot was always almost a certainty. Unfortunately, that is not the case this season. Kentucky experiences too many empty possessions towards the end of the game, making it all the more challenging to obtain a victory.

At times, especially in the dwindling seconds of the Georgia game, Kentucky played uninspired basketball. From Head Coach John Calipari to the players on the court, the Wildcats look frustrated and expecting to fail. Of course, those feeling are not surprising, especially for a team so used to winning. Conversely, it will not stop the descent down the conference standings and national picture.

From strictly a consumer standpoint; however, Kentucky’s struggles allow for something different in the college basketball world. Alabama is one of the best and surprising stories in the SEC and nationally. Tennessee looks like a true contender for the final four at times, and there might be at least one more team from the conference set to cause a little chaos. So even though Kentucky won’t feel that way, there is almost a bigger picture silver-lining, providing opportunities to teams that haven’t witnessed success in a while.

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Though some may still hold out hope, the Kentucky Wildcats will find themselves outside of March Madness this year. In a tournament already set to be a bit strange, their absence will provide another level. Yes, plenty of basketball remains; but for Kentucky, sights are on next season and whether they can make this fall from grace just a one-year thing.