Kentucky shook Tennessee in the final six minutes for a 75-65 win in Rupp Arena Tuesday.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Homecourt losses to two teams from that basketball crazy state of Texas. Free-throw shooting that would make Shaquille O'Neal blush. Questions about grit from the head coach. An unexpected disappearance from the national conversation.
These are the questions that have jumped to the top of the page about this erratic University of Kentucky basketball team:
1. Does a 75-65 win against Tennessee that pushed UK's record to 11-5 Tuesday night qualify as a quality victory?
2. And would a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) number of 67 be sexy enough to get John Calipari's team into the NCAA Tournament?
Short answers: No, have you seen Tennessee play this season? Don't count on it, folks.
Worry lines have been spotted in the ticket lines in Rupp Arena. Investigators are searching for the team that challenged Duke and rallied mightily against Louisville. No lead seems safe. Few obstacles feel surmountable. The Wildcats have failed to wallop Vanderbilt, Texas A&M or Tennessee.
Nerlens Noel blocked six shots and led the Wildcats in steals with four. His points (12) and rebounds (9) were nice extras. Kyle Wiltjer (17 points) stopped settling for three-point shots. Julius Mays (nine points with a pair of threes) stopped passing up threes.
Still, Calipari talks as if he is legitimately concerned about "stealing" a victory at Auburn Saturday night.
"I came to this conclusion," Calipari said. "In the last seven, eight years, I've coached teams that have absolutely whomped on people. This ain't one of them.
"Every game we're going to be in is going to be a dogfight. Instead of going crazy about it, how about just accepting it, right, and coach that way? I can't imagine this team being up 20 on anybody."
Calipari's team plays four of its next five away from Rupp Arena, and the best thing the Wildcats have done on the road is not get lost on the bus ride to the arena. A two-point win at Vanderbilt is no reason for chest pounding.
The volume on the conversation about Kentucky missing the NCAA Tournament has been dialed up. Beating an 8-7 Tennessee team in a game that was tied with 6:27 to play is no reason to go crazy. Several national websites have discussed the problem, and more octane was injected into the topic Tuesday.
Mr. Bracketology, Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com, delivered his latest update on the bracket for the 2013 NCAA Tournament – and Lunardi has the Wildcats participating in the 68-team party. He considers Kentucky a 10-seed.
But … Lunardi was also compelled to write an 11-paragraph story about why the Wildcats might miss all the fun.
There's no reason to fight through 11 paragraphs. I can explain it in one:
Kentucky doesn't have any quality wins and the Wildcats aren't positioned to earn many because the SEC is essentially an empty sweat sock this winter.
Florida, Missouri and Mississippi are the only other SEC teams projected to make Lunardi's field. Kentucky plays four games against that trio – home and home with Florida, a visit to Ole Miss and a home game against Missouri. Other than those four games, there's not much juice out there.
Tennessee isn't very good – and proved it by losing to Virginia and Alabama. The Vols are down a shooter and a rebounder. And unlike Texas A&M with Elston Turner, Tennessee can't count on the son of Bernard King or Dale Ellis to pull them through.
I checked Tennessee's computer rankings – all three of them. Nothing better than No. 92. The Vols are tucked well behind teams like Seton Hall, Akron and Evansville in the RPI.
"We just need to win games," Calipari said.
What does history say? That Kentucky better win one or two against Florida, Mississippi or Missouri. That 67 RPI that the Wildcats carried into the game Tuesday is guaranteed to make it a shaky Selection Sunday unless the number becomes considerably better.
I checked the RPI of the SEC teams that have made the NCAA Tournament as at-large selections over the last five seasons. According to collegerpi.com, not one had an RPI of worse than 57 – and that was first team that Billy Gillispie (sorry for the memory) coached for the Wildcats.
Ole Miss had 20 victories as well as an RPI of 61 last season. The Rebels played in the NIT.
Ole Miss is not Kentucky. The Rebels don't have the same appeal or juice. Of course, this season Kentucky hasn't been Kentucky either.