BOZICH | Is Kentucky Top 10 worthy? Questions linger after 9-point win over Harvard
Kentucky moved to 7-1 by defeating Harvard Saturday in Rupp Arena, but the Wildcats labored to put away the Crimson, leaving doubts about Kentucky's credentials as a Top 10 team.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Blind resume experiment.
I realize you can determine which team I’m blindly discussing by checking the dateline, and that there are 98 days until Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament. But please stay with me.
My mystery team has won seven of its first eight games. Nothing wrong with that. Last time I checked we were down to 15 unbeatens in college basketball.
But none of this team’s victories have been delivered against a Top 50 opponent and just one came against Top 100 competition. Have they defeated a team that will compete in the 2018 NCAA Tournament?
Maybe one. Maybe.
The average Ken Pomeroy power rating of the seven opponents this bunch has defeated is 143. No reason to flex over that.
I’m not asking if this is an NCAA Tournament team. I’m asking if this is actually a Top 10 team – or more specifically would it be a Top 10 team if it was coached by Billy Kennedy, Mark Fox or Avery Johnson, not John Calipari.
Yes, it is Kentucky, ranked seventh in the latest Associated Press poll, that I’m fussing about. Speaking of fussing, even Calipari did some after the game.
"I do know what winning looks like and it does not look like what we're doing out there right now," Calipari said. "This team should be a great defensive team. This team should be a great rebounding team. But we're not ... we've got a ways to go."
The reason for the fussing is that in a season where the Wildcats had already labored to put away Utah Valley, Vermont and East Tennessee State, they made Harvard look like more than a group of guys with sizzling SAT scores Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Yes, Kentucky won, 79-70, getting 20 points from Kevin Knox and 19 from Hamidou Diallo. But it was not the kind of performance that will move the Wildcats up any tournament seed line. Harvard, remember, came to Lexington off back-to-back losses to Cal-State Fullerton and Northeastern.
The Wildcats led by only five at halftime against an Ivy League program that has already lost to three teams with sub-200 computer power rankings.
"There are stretches when we don't play winning basketball," Calipari said. "There are certain guys playing a certain way that can't have success."
A Harvard team that ranked 328th in the nation in three-point shooting percentage punished the Wildcats from distance, making 12 of 28 attempts. That was the most three Harvard has made in a game this season. The Wildcats led by only four with less than 16 minutes to play before outscoring Harvard 23-7 over the next seven minutes to lead 72-52.
But Kentucky was unable to cruise to the final horn. Harvard cut the lead back to over the next five minutes – and then under double figures with a late three. The Crimson outscored the Wildcats 36-6 from distance. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, the former Duke all-American, was more impressed with Kentucky than Calipari was.
"I see a team that has a chance to be one of the best in the country, if not the best," Amaker said. "Their front line is incredibly long. They're an NBA-sized basketball team. Their offensive rebounding is outstanding."
But there are other signs this season will not be another sunny stroll through the Southeastern Conference for Calipari’s team.
Texas A&M, the SEC’s last unbeaten, has already handled four Top 50 opponents. Florida beat Gonzaga on a neutral court and took Duke into overtime. Tennessee whipped Purdue and North Carolina State. Arkansas has four Top 100 wins. Alabama has three. This is not Nick Saban's SEC.
That’s not to say that Calipari needs a Kleenex and your sympathy.
Knox is the team’s one certified 2018 first-round NBA Draft pick, a guy who can score at the rim, on the drive, from distance or at the free throw line. Credit Knox with a team-best 20 points, which included a pair of threes and seven rebounds.
Kentucky is long. It has depth. The Wildcats are young and figure to improve the way Calipari’s teams often have after he can park his players in the practice gym for triple sessions after final exams.
But this team does not have a John Wall, Brandon Knight, Tyler Ulis or De’Aaron Fox in the pilot position at point guard. Quade Green has neither the blow-by speed or the shifty moves of that group – and he does not lead the team in assists. Outside shooting is another question.
What’s next for Kentucky?
Another less than formidable test – this time against Monmouth, a 3-4 squad with losses to UNC-Asheville and Penn, next Saturday in Madison Square Garden.
We won’t have confirmation of Kentucky’s Top 10 credentials until the Wildcats play their three final non-conference games against Virginia Tech, UCLA and Louisville, a trio of Top 50 opponents.
But do the Wildcats belong in the next AP Top 10 that will arrive Monday afternoon?
I wonder about that.
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