After Kentucky’s third consecutive loss last night, the Big Blue Nation’s restlessness reached record highs.
The Wildcats led the Aggies at halftime 30-26, but came out after intermission looking groggy, allowing a 17-2 run by Texas A&M. From there, Kentucky couldn’t do much of anything to get back on top, and their record fell to 17-8 on the season. They’re now sitting at .500 in conference play at 6-6, and are currently the No. 6 team in the SEC, tied with the likes of Mississippi State, Arkansas, and A&M.
With an incredibly tough schedule to end the season, and quality of play plunging by the game, dreams of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament are taking a similar plunge.
In fact, many are wondering if this team is destined to follow a similar path of the 2012-13 Kentucky team and miss the tournament entirely.
But just how close to the NIT are the 2017-18 Wildcats?
Just looking at last season’s NIT participants, and those from previous years, Kentucky would have to make a complete collapse going into postseason play.
Syracuse was selected as the No. 1 seed of the 2017 NIT after finishing the regular season with a record of 18-14.
Illinois, the No. 2 seed in last year’s NIT, also finished the regular season with an 18-14 record.
Conversely, the 2016 NIT field was stacked, with no No. 1 seed having more than eight losses on the year. In fact, South Carolina was the No. 1 seed in one region with a 24-8 regular season record.
In 2015, Old Dominion was a No. 1 seed with a final record of 24-7, as was Colorado State with a record of 27-6. Texas A&M made the NIT as a No. 2 seed with a record of 20-11.
When Kentucky went to the NIT back in 2012-13, everything that could have gone wrong, did. Nerlens Noel tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the year, the Cats struggled from the outside, and a lack of go-to scorer made it incredibly hard to win down the stretch. Things were starting to click when Noel went down, and the team immediately reverted back to their old bad habits.
Finishing 21-11 that season, even THAT team was the first team out of the tournament, and many analysts felt the Cats were snubbed.
Fortunately for the Cats this year, unlike 2015 and 2016, the field is wide open, as no teams in college basketball have separated themselves as leaders of the pack.
In fact, even with the loss last night, ESPN’s advanced numbers show that the Cats still have a 97% chance to make the NCAA tournament. Kentucky has the 11th-toughest strength of schedule in the nation, and are No. 18 in RPI.
With six games remaining down the stretch, plus the SEC Championship to look forward to, it would take a monumental breakdown for the Cats to land in the NIT.