Ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25 after the season started, Kentucky A 1-3 start in this week’s poll didn’t even get a single vote in SEC play Alabama Saturday’s 71-68 loss to South Carolina snapped a 28-game hitting streak at Rupp Arena for the Wildcats. Ranked 46th in the NET with an 0-4 record in Quad 1 games, the Wildcats went from 26-8 to major disappointment after the return of national player of the year Oscar Shipvey along with key players like Zahvir Wheeler and Jacob Toppin. Team.
After a shocking loss to 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, 14th-year coach John Calipari’s frustration is at an all-time high among UK fans. The show’s last win in the Big Dance came in 2019, and it suddenly looks like there’s no guarantee that 2023 will bring one.
But Selection Sunday is two months away, and Kentucky still has time to turn things around. Five-star freshmen Keson Wallace and Chris Livingston have each shown flashes of motivation and should only improve as the season progresses. Sharpshooting guard C.J. Fredrick should also return from a finger injury at some point during league play.
The range of consequences for the Wildcats is wide-ranging, and Calipari’s tenure reaches a critical juncture for the game’s collective attention for several weeks. In this week’s edition of Triple Handoff, our writers offer their predictions for how the rest of Kentucky’s season will play out.
The Cats are a bubble team, but the Big Dance does
- Predictive conference recording: 10-8
- Predicted NCAA Tournament Seeding: Number 9
Kentucky hasn’t been impressive all season and doesn’t seem on the verge of turning things around. The Wildcats blew out Alabama by 26 points. They are 3-3 in their last six games, still have zero Quadrant 1 wins and are down to 45th place. netAt 56 BartTorvik.com and 62nd in KPI.
The UK looks like a potential bubble group.
At this point, the Wildcats’ no. I doubt it will ever live up to the seasonal expectations it earned 1 spot. KenPom.com, are labeled SEC favorites basically everywhere in the top five — but I still think they’ll come in on the right side of the bubble and make the NCAA tournament. Then… who knows? A year ago, UK had a terrible NCAA tournament following a great regular season. This year could be the opposite — a disappointing regular season followed by a good NCAA tournament run. The Wildcats still have the CBS Sports National Player of the Year (Oscar Shipway) and a lottery pick (Cason Wallace). It’s not the most talented roster John Calipari has ever assembled, but it’s still a more talented roster than most coaches. Now it’s just a matter of figuring things out and doing enough to make it to 68 and see if things can break the right way when that single-elimination tournament begins. — Gary Parrish
England’s season has been uneven but big wins will come
- Predictive conference recording: 11-7
- Predicted NCAA Tournament Seeding: Number 9
Even though UK sits at 1-2 in the SEC — I expect it to be 2-2 after the loss South Carolina Tuesday night at home — that conference will be tough enough that the Wildcats can reasonably expect anything more than a four-game winning streak between now and the postseason. There are seven road tests, and Jan. 28 home game against No. 2 Kansas In the final edition of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Hence, the losses keep piling up from time to time. However, I expect Kentucky to find some resolve and toughen up its defense.
I expect it to pick up some important Quad 1 hits, and it will prevent bubble talk in the second week of March. This will be the same team as the 8/9 game in 2014. Because with five losses already and at least five more to come between now and Selection Sunday, it’s safe to say Kentucky will get a single-digit seed. However, I will say thank you for doing well in the SEC tournament. Also: Kentucky is going to beat Kansas later this month. — Matt Norlander
Wildcats thrive by February
- Predictive conference recording: 13-5
- Predicted NCAA Tournament Seeding: Number 6
There’s no doubt that Kentucky underperformed relative to preseason expectations, and prompted a difficult reset after struggling early in the season even relative to relaxed expectations. Kentucky’s 10-5 start to the season, even when you have serious issues, hasn’t been up to par. However, there are reasons for cautious optimism. This is one of the best 3-point shooting groups Calipari has fielded in England, and Oscar Shipway has been the crucible for all of his struggles, consistently drilling the offensive glass and creating second-chance opportunities.
A few small tweaks to player roles and a greater focus on doing it better — starting 3-pointers, feeding Cason Wallace opportunities to set the table and turning Tshiebwe into favorable spots — could be enough to turn things around. There are still some things on the margins that need significant improvement — this team is bad at shooting free throws and it constantly runs into danger late on Hero Ball — but it’s no. 6 or maybe 7th in the NCAA tournament and repeat as a top-15 level team at the end of the regular season. — Kyle Boone
UK in the top four, one of the last teams in the Big Dance
- Predictive conference recording: 9-9
- Predicted NCAA Tournament Seeding: No. 12 (first four)
Kentucky plays a primitive offensive style defined by a methodical pace and limited floor spacing. Without an elite defense capable of creating transition chances, England are stuck in half-court sets and struggle to find a rhythm or build momentum. Strictly speaking, he doesn’t have the caliber at this point in his career to pull the strings needed to unlock this roster’s potential.
The SEC’s bottom feeders will ensure the Wildcats get a fair number of league wins. But UK doesn’t get a regular-season rematch with No. 4 Alabama, making the two games against No. 5 more important. Tennessee And two games against No. 15 Arkansas. Outside of those tournaments, no. Single game with 21 Auburn And a Big 12/SEC challenge game with No. 2 Kansas represents Kentucky’s only chances to add substance to its resume.
It’s hard to see the Wildcats going 2-4 or 3-3 against Arkansas (two games), Tennessee (two games), Auburn and Kansas. Kentucky seems destined for the NCAA Tournament bubble, and I’ll take a swing like the other blue bloods to see the Wildcats finish in the top four. Indiana, State of Michigan And UCLA have been in recent years. — David Cobb
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