Yes it all seems like a bad dream. The year started with high expectations and another top class but now we limp into the postseason likely to miss the NCAA tournament. Even worse? Indiana, Louisville and Duke will probably land #1 seeds and accompany Florida as teams with a great chance to make the final four. So which ever one of you out there made that deal for championships last year and next thanks a lot (But seriously, I’ll take it). If the Cats are left out of the tournament this year which factor will you be focusing on as the reason we’re on the outside looking in:
Lack of Signature Non-Conference Wins
When the schedule was released for the year the non-conference was severely lacking. With North Carolina on hold for a year and Indiana refusing to play on a neutral court our usually strong schedule was left short for one year. Duke and Louisville were the only two games against ranked opponents and offered our only chances to secure resume building wins early in the year.
The Cats ended up finishing both those games close but just couldn’t find a way to get it done and with just two great opponents on the schedule the room for error was slim. Looking back now if the Cats could have just gotten a couple extra baskets in those games they would be well in the tournament. Still losing those games didn’t exactly hurt UK. The much more damaging event from this year was the bevy of disappointing losses:
Too Many Disappointing Losses
The story of the year could easily be summed up as one step forward, two steps backward. Each time it appeared Kentucky had turned the corner there was just another head scratching loss. The Cats always seemed ready to play in games that mattered (Missouri, Florida, Ole Miss) and then lose focus against teams like Vandy, Texas A&M, and Baylor. I wonder if the team could go back and replay the season knowing the outcome how different it would be. I think we would see them bring the passion and intensity we saw in the big games to the small ones as well and what a difference that would have made.
Most of those bad losses came late in the year and on the road. Not much of a coincidence those losses came after the Cats lost their best player to a torn ACL.
Nerlens Noel Injury
The Cat’s longest win streak of the year was five games which helped them claw back into the AP top 25 for a showdown against the Gators in Gainesville. Post Nerlens UK went 4-4 with 4 double digit road losses which leaves them in their current position. Losing the potential defensive player of the year is going to have a major impact on your team and I think if Noel was still healthy there is no question the Cats would be well in the tournament right now. We wouldn’t be spending all this time looking at bracketology and RPIs. Noel going down was just a significant as the games we won and the games we lost.
The first three years in the Cal era have been nothing short of spectacular. If this year does end in a trip to the NIT I’d take it in exchange for the elite eight, final four, and championship along with the title coming next year. Which of these things do you wish had gone just a little differently so we weren’t pushed to the edge of the bubble?