2. Will Kentucky end up in the 2021 NCAA Tournament?
With Keion Brooks back and Dontaie Allen hitting shots off the bench, the Wildcats are definitely an improved team – and could very well play at an NCAA Tournament-level from here on out. The problem, however, is that Kentucky still has plenty of challenging games remaining; even finishing above .500 won’t be easy. The Wildcats will be a real threat to win the SEC Tournament, but this may be the team’s only path into the field.
The resume will be dragged into the ground and the Wildcats have little to no room for error the rest of the way. The polar opposite happened to Oklahoma back in 2017-2018. After being a solidified No. 1 seed, they would lose nine of their last 11 games, then eventually losing in the first round.
The Wildcats have rattled off three straight wins, including an 18-point win over Florida in Gainesville. Missouri has dropped back to back games after getting off to a fantastic start. Only Alabama is undefeated and played more than one conference game.
It’s too early to tell, but Calipari has his team playing good basketball at the right time. If Kentucky is within the top three in the conference by the end of the season, there’s a good season they make the tournament.
I believe Kentucky is finally in rhythm after their six-game losing streak. SEC Play came at the perfect time. Getting Keion Brooks Jr. back was huge for the Wildcats. As a team, I think three of their best assets are ball movement, fast-break efficiency, and how well they drive to the basket.
They have five excellent scoring options in Brandon Boston Jr., Brooks Jr., Olivier Sarr, Terrence Clarke, and Davion Mintz. I think Dontaie Allen will be huge for them as an x-factor whether he starts or comes off the bench.
I don’t want to overreact to Kentucky’s three-game win streak in SEC play. I still think they’re a very flawed team and based on their body of work, I can’t see them in the tournament field. Their non-conference results certainly won’t do them any favors for at-large consideration, and they still have a number of challenging games on the schedule, including five total games against Texas, Tennessee, and Alabama.
If they’ve really improved from earlier in the season, it will be evident when they play the upper tier of SEC teams. I’m still skeptical.
It will be tough, but it is not impossible for Kentucky to still make the tourney – and I think they may be able to pull it off. Kentucky’s issue right now, obviously, is the fact that they have squandered almost any potential quality out-of-conference win. At 4-6, Kentucky ranks 88th in the latest NET rankings, and are just 1-2 against Quad 1 teams, 1-3 against Q2, and 0-1 against Q3.
That is obviously abysmal, but the Wildcats still have an opportunity to make the tourney – they just cannot afford a slip-up at all in SEC play. Likewise, they need to pull off a few upsets – and their schedule presents the opportunity to still do that.
They get Tennessee and Alabama twice, they host LSU, and they still have Missouri in early February – and most importantly, they get to host Texas at the end of this month. They have opportunities to become the first team to start 1-6 and make the tournament – but if they continue to play as they did against Florida, then I think they can seal the deal.