After starting the season she was ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25, Kentucky He fell short of a single vote in this week’s poll amid a 1-3 start to SEC play that featured an embarrassing 78-52 loss in Alabama The Saturday followed by a 71-68 loss to South Carolina on Tuesday that snapped a 28-game winning streak at Rupp Arena for the Wildcats. 46th in net with an 0-4 record in Quad 1 games, the Wildcats were a deep disappointment after returning National Player of the Year Oscar Cheppui along with other key players like Sahvir Wheeler and Jacob Toppin from a 26-8 team.
On the heels of a stunning loss to No. 15-ranked St. Peter in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year, frustration with 14th-year coach John Calipari is at an all-time high within the UK fan base. The show’s last Big Dance win came in 2019, and it suddenly seems as though there are no guarantees that 2023 will yield a single win.
But there are two months left until that Sunday and Kentucky still has time to turn things around. Five-star freshmen Casson Wallace and Chris Livingston have both shown encouraging flashes and should only get better as the season progresses. Sharp shooting guard CJ Fredrick must also return from a finger injury at some point while playing in the league.
The range of Wildcats scores remains wide, and the Calipari period saga hits milestone numbers to capture the sport’s collective attention for weeks to come. For this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers offer their predictions for how Kentucky’s season will end.
Bubbles team cats, but they make a big jig
- Expected conference record: 10-8
- I predicted the NCAA tournament: number 9
Kentucky has been mediocre all season and doesn’t seem about to turn things around. The Wildcats blew Alabama by 26 points. They’re 3-3 in their past six games, and still own zero wins in Q1 and down to 45th in the standings. Clear56 in BartTorvik.com and 62 in KPI.
The UK looks like a potential bubble team.
At this point, I’m skeptical that the Wildcats will live up to the preseason expectations that had them as the No. KenPom.com, are in the top five basically all around and are rated as SEC favorites – but I still think they’ll land on the right side of the bubble and make the NCAA Tournament. And then… who knows? A year ago, UK had a great regular season followed by a terrible NCAA tournament. This year could conceivably be the opposite – a disappointing regular season followed by a bland NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats still have CBS Sports National Player of the Year (Oscar Tshiebwe) and a projected lottery pick (Cason Wallace). It’s not the most talented roster John Calipari has ever put together, but it’s still a more talented roster than most coaches. Now it’s just a matter of knowing a few things, doing enough to make the field of 68, and then seeing if things can break the right way when that single-elimination cycle kicks off. – Gary Parish
The UK season remains bumpy, but the big wins are to come
- Expected conference record: 11-7
- I predicted the NCAA tournament: number 9
Even though UK is at 1-2 in the SEC – I would expect it to be 2-2 after batting South Carolina AT HOME TUESDAY NIGHT – This conference is going to be so tough that we can’t reasonably expect the Wildcats to pull anything bigger than a four-game winning streak between now and the postseason. There are seven road tests, as well as a home match on 28 January against second place Kansas In the latest edition of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Therefore, losses will accumulate periodically. However, I expect Kentucky to find some resolve and toughen up its defense.
I expect it to score some decisive wins in Quad 1 and ensure it avoids bubble-talk by the second week of March. It will end up being like the team in 2014 that was in the 8/9 game. Because with five losses already and probably at least five more between now and this particular Sunday, it’s optimistic to say Kentucky will earn a single-digit seed. I will say it runs tight, though, thanks to its good performance on the SEC course. And: Kentucky is going to beat Kansas later this month. Matt Norlander
Wildcats hit their stride by February
- Expected conference record: 13-5
- I predicted the NCAA tournament: No. 6
There is no question that Kentucky underperformed preseason and even comfort prospects in the season after early struggles prompted a reset. A 10-5 start to the season is low for Kentucky even if you have serious problems. However, there are reasons for cautious optimism. This is quietly one of the best 3-point shooting squads Calipari has ever featured in the UK, and Oscar Chebuy, for all his struggles, continued to flip the offensive glass and produce second chance chances.
A few minor tweaks to player roles and an increased focus on doing what he does well – shooting 3-pointers, feeding Cason Wallace chances to set the table and getting Tshiebwe into favorable spots – might be enough to turn things around. There are still some things on the sidelines that need major improvement – this team is terrible at shooting free throws and they’re constantly hitting the champ ball late in time when attacking – but I’ve seen enough positives to believe they could be a No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the Tournament NCAA and return to the top 15 level at the end of the regular season.. – Kyle Boone
UK in the First Four, one of the last teams in Big Dance
- Expected conference record: 9-9
- I predicted the NCAA tournament: No. 12 (first four)
Kentucky plays an archaic offensive style that is defined by methodical pace and limited floor spacing. Without an elite defense that can constantly create transitional opportunities, the UK are bogged down in their half of the field and struggle to find rhythm or build momentum. Schematically, Calipari didn’t have it at this point in his career to pull the strings needed to unleash the potential of this roster.
The SEC bottom feeders will ensure the Wildcats get a decent number of league wins. But UK doesn’t get a regular season rematch with No. 4 Alabama, putting huge focus on two games against No. 5. Tennessee And two matches against No. 15 Arkansas. Outside of those competitions, one match with 21st place Auburn And the Big 12/SEC Challenge game with No. 2 Kansas represents Kentucky’s only chances to add substance to its resume.
It’s hard to see the Wildcats do better than 2-4 or 3-3 against Arkansas (2 games), Tennessee (2 games), Auburn, and Kansas. Kentucky looks destined for the NCAA tournament bubble, and I’m going to take a swing at the Wildcats going down in the first four like other blue bloods like IndianaAnd Michigan State And University of California you have in recent years. – David Cobb
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