Huge week ahead for Kentucky Wildcats NCAA Basketball Tournament Hopes

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Jan 26, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari reacts and falls on the scorers table during the game against the LSU Tigers at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated LSU 75-70. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Make no doubt about it, but the Kentucky Wildcats have given John Calipari more than his share of “Fred Sanford” moments as they have underperformed and underutilized their talent to a 13-6 record. Saturday’s 75-70 win over LSU was a prime example of the Cats roller coaster ride this season: solid in the first half, awful at times in the second, and showing enough life at the end to salt away an inferior team. It’s just not me saying that. The national pundits are throwing dirt on UK’s NCAA hopes and ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan throws on another shovel:

 

1. Kentucky does not look like a tournament team. Unless the tournament in question is the NIT.

I know, I know: A win is a win, and Kentucky held on for a 75-70 home victory over LSU on Saturday. And I know: There’s still some time left for this young Kentucky team to figure it all out. But it’s clear, at least right now, that the Wildcats have some pretty significant flaws, flaws that could put their already tenuous tournament position in even greater jeopardy the rest of the way.

Chief among them? Defense. The Wildcats had allowed .97 points per possession in SEC play prior to Saturday, seventh-best in a league that most certainly does not house seven good teams. (Maybe three.) It ranked last in the league in forced-turnover rate, and it had allowed SEC opponents to grab 32.1 percent of available offensive rebounds, 10th-best in the conference. These same flaws were apparent Saturday, too. Kentucky scored efficiently throughout the game; it shot 52 percent from the field and a tidy 61 percent from inside the arc (it shot 11 3-pointers and made just two). And still the Wildcats allowed the Tigers — a 10-7 team with a 1-5 SEC record and the 209th-ranked offense in the country, per KenPom.com — to put up 70 points at Rupp Arena, to push for a game-tying play until the final possession, to make Ashley Judd a nervous wreck on live television.

Kentucky began the week with a No. 10 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket, and that sounds about right, but that was before Tuesday’s loss at Alabama. If I had to bet on UK making it to the tournament or not this season, I’d take the former option. But if it can’t get at least some separation from the worst teams in its own down league at home, John Calipari’s team will find itself at serious risk of missing the tournament just 11 months after winning it all. Heck, that risk is already here.

 

I admit, Kentucky needs a big win over a ranked team and Ole Miss represents that opportunity.  And then a road game at Texas A&M looms.  Yes, that Texas A&M team.  For the record, I don’t think that a loss at Ole Miss will kill Kentucky’s season, it will put them severely on the bubble and require them to beat Florida and Mizzou at Rupp and a near perfect season.  Best thing for UK to do is to sweep this week and shut the pundits up.

 

 

Regardless of how the Wildcats finish this year, Calipari has not lost his recruiting magic. As you can see from the above tweet, It looks like the 2014 class is starting to shape up.

As for the 2013 class? It may or may not still be a work in progress. I know that a lot will be made of the fact that John Calipari did not travel to Cleveland to watch Andrew Wiggins as he was rumored to be doing. Wiggins had a big weekend in Cleveland, going for 30 points, 14 boards and 5 rebounds on Saturday and 23 points and 10 boards yesterday. Julius Randle paid a visit to NC State and apparently was blown away by the visit and called that his best official yet.

It’s all good and well to speculate on where these players may be leaning, but it is still just January and Calipari is going to make his closing moves on these guys soon. So as we say, don’t count Calipari out.

 

 

Jan 25, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) reacts to a call in overtime against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 123-111. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The news of Rajon Rondo’s ACL injury is devastating to Celtic fans and to Wildcat fans who still follow the former Wildcat guard. It’s interesting how it went down as Rondo suffered the injury in the midst of a triple double game. On Saturday, he was hanging with his teammates and thinking it was a hamstring problem. And on Sunday, the news hit like a bomb at the Boston Garden:

 

The grim news of Rondo’s injury passed like a wave through the stands of the capacity crowd, which, in spite of Boston’s spirited play, remained subdued. Included among those fans were New England Patriots players Patrick Chung and Donte Stallworth, who stood in the hallway commiserating with each other.

“Is he still back there?” Chung asked. “Tell him we wish him the best. It’s an athlete’s worst nightmare.”

As the game went into a first, then a second overtime, Rondo pulled on some jeans and a sweatshirt and popped out to the edge of the court to watch the remainder of the game. He was flanked by multiple security guards and his friend, Dooling.
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“He’s taking it OK,” Dooling said. “I think he’s still in shock about the whole thing.”

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck had sat with Rondo in the locker room during the third quarter and reported he was “down but not out.”

“He can’t believe it’s torn,” Grousbeck said. “He told me, ‘I’m done. Done for the year.’ It probably hasn’t hit him yet.

“But just after he said that, he was saying to me, ‘Look at that play.’ He was totally focused on the game.

“Rondo and KG are the heart of our team. Players like [Avery] Bradley and [Jared] Sullinger feed off them. It’s a big loss for us.”

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