The Kentucky Wildcats fell to 12-6 last night, with their second loss in the SEC, this one on the road at Alabama, a team that lost to Mercer earlier this season and is also 12-6. Kentucky has seven wins against ridiculously outclassed non-conference teams, but only one win that even approaches a quality win (Maryland), and that one is borderline as the Terrapins are no guarantee to be in the NCAA Tournament.
Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk thinks this puts Kentucky in danger of being in the NIT, one year after the school won the national title (albeit with an almost completely different roster). If the season ended today, which of course, it does not, they would be in trouble. I don’t think the loss to Alabama, by four points on the road, will look bad by mid-March. The loss at home to Texas A&M was the tougher one, and Kentucky cannot afford many bad losses like that.
The season, of course, does not end today. I do think the relatively weak SEC, and Kentucky’s lack of results to date, limit their upside in getting a decent seed by NCAA Tournament time, and unless they basically run the table, they are not getting a top six seed.
However, I think their profile will still be enough to get an NCAA tournament at-large in six weeks. Few things are certain in life. Death, taxes, and talk about how this year’s bubble is the softest ever among them. The “bubble” has expanded with the move to 68 teams slightly, but the profiles of teams in that range is generally pretty similar, and I don’t think this year will be an exception.
I went back through the fourteen “BCS” schools that were selected as an at-large the last two years and seeded as a 10-seed or worse. Here is a summary of the group, so we get a sense of about where Kentucky needs to be:
- They won 27.6% of their games against NCAA Tourney at-large caliber teams (13 seed or better), averaging 3.2 wins and 8.4 losses.
- Six of the fourteen had two or fewer wins vs. NCAA Tourney at-large caliber teams, including in their conference tournaments. The lowest percentage was Clemson in 2011, who got into the First Four game with a 1-7 mark in such games.
- They lost an average of 3.4 games against non-NCAA Tourney at-large caliber teams.
- The “best” win, as judged by tournament seeding, was on average against a 5-seed. Only three of them had a win over a team seeded #3 or better in the NCAA Tournament, while seven others beat a 4-seed.
What does this mean for Kentucky? Well, they currently have four losses against teams I feel pretty comfortable projecting in the field, including two that will be a 1 or 2 seed in Duke and Louisville. Most true bubble type teams would have gone 0-2 in those games and not been as competitive as Kentucky.
If the Wildcats beat Florida once, and get one other win over Ole Miss or Missouri in the regular season or the conference tournament, they are in. If they only get one win against that group, they will be squarely on the bubble in March. If they have too many bad losses in the SEC, they could drop off entirely. I think they get there, but we probably won’t know for a while. Kentucky hosts Florida in their best chance to boost the profile in the final regular season game on March 9th.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]