After a shaky start in the SEC, the Cats are perched precariously on the NCAA Tournament bubble, according to Sports Illustrated’s Andy Glockner, who names the Cats as one of his SEC teams that are “in the mix”:
Kentucky was the final team into this week’s bracket, the defending national champions ignominiously scheduled to begin their title defense on a Wednesday night in Dayton. For all the possible promise of this season’s batch of Kiddie Cats, they have not yet delivered anything close to a substantive NCAA tournament profile, unless you count competitive losses as a plus. Right now, Kentucky is carrying an RPI in the high 60s, with a win over Maryland (itself falling out of this week’s bracket) as its only top-150 victory.
For all the faux-gnashing of teeth about the Wildcats’ positioning in mid-January, there is some legitimate reason for concern. The SEC is decidedly mediocre this season, with only Florida and (assumedly) Missouri available as truly quality conquests in league play. Kentucky doesn’t play either of those teams until Feb. 12, when it visits the Gators, and gets both of those teams at Rupp later on. With only one nonconference win likely to even end up in the top 200, this has the smell of Billy Gillispie’s first season in Lexington in 2007-08, when the Cats ultimately squeezed in as an 11-seed.
Given the massive turnover from last season’s roster, this isn’t entirely shocking. In fact, in the early entry era, it’s not a stunner for the defending national champion to miss the NCAA tournament entirely the following season. Just in the last five years, it’s happened to North Carolina (2010) and Florida (2008).
I’d expect Kentucky to scrape through enough SEC games to make it into the eventual Field of 68, but its margin for error isn’t great. Another couple of surprises like Texas A&M walking into Rupp and walking out with a win, and the Cats could be gunning for a different type of title come March: The NIT.
Does the thought of the NIT make you throw up a little bit too?