If Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes was the head of the NCAA Selection Committee, the Kentucky Wildcats would be a one-seed in the latest tournament projections.
In fact, if he was ranking the best teams in college basketball, John Calipari’s group would be one of the top two teams he has seen this season.
During his preview press conference this afternoon, the Tennessee head coach told reporters that Kentucky and Kansas are the two best teams in college basketball this season, adding that the Wildcats were “the most underrated, under-appreciated team in the country.”
“I think Kentucky is the most underrated and under-appreciated team in the country right now,” Barnes said of the Wildcats. “I think them, and Kansas are the two best teams in the country. They (Kentucky) haven’t lost since their game at Auburn, and Kansas I don’t think has lost since their game at home against Baylor. Right now, those are the two best teams in college basketball.”
High praise, right? He didn’t stop there, going in-depth on Kentucky’s “player of the year type candidates” and the elite coaching the Wildcats are getting from Coach Cal.
“They have two players, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards, who are two guys that are player of the year type candidates,” Barnes said. “There’s a lot of terrific coaches in our league and nobody has done a better job than John Calipari. So, with that said they’re playing terrific defense, they get out in transition, they are as lethal as any team you will play against. They’re going to get into their sets and execute. They’ve improved since we last played them. I think we have improved a lot as well. … We know that we are going on the road to play arguably the best team in college basketball right now.”
As a team, Barnes credits Kentucky’s impressive growth and status as one of the top teams in the nation to their ability to knock down free throws in clutch moments and elite defense, among other impressive attributes.
“The free throw shooting and great defense for certain,” Barnes continued. “They do make free throws. They made a lot of free throws down the stretch when they came here to play us, and we got behind and had to foul. John’s (Calipari) teams always defend. They aren’t going to give you anything easy. I think they have definitely improved. We talked about it last time, how much Nick Richards has improved. You look at their backcourt play all around, they have improved as well. His teams always get better around this time of year. This is always when they play their best basketball. I wouldn’t say what I just said about them being one of the best teams in the country if they didn’t have the whole package. I think both them and Kansas are built for close games and the fact is, that they take care of the ball, make free throws and they are going to make you earn everything on the other end.”
Barnes’ praise of the Kentucky basketball program comes just two days after Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl gave similar praise to the Wildcats and their growth as a team from the beginning of the season to now.
“I really like Kentucky’s team,” Pearl said following Auburn’s loss to Kentucky on Saturday evening. “I really like their coach. They did an amazing job. I think they are very undervalued. I’ll tell you right now, if we don’t play them again I am rooting for them. I am rooting for them to go a long way.”
The SEC coaches are on a roll hyping up the Kentucky basketball program.
But will the NCAA Selection Committee feel the same way when Selection Sunday rolls around?