The Kentucky Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels are in unaccustomed spots for the first Monday in February. The are both unranked in the NCAA poll and more importantly may be in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. Is it possible?
North Carolina coach Roy Williams says he doesn’t start thinking about the NCAA tournament mix until after the regular season.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, too, prefers to focus on the here and now.
It’s another thing the veterans have in common this season (whether or not they really are paying attention), as their blue-blooded teams find themselves inexplicably sliding all over the postseason bubble.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, you’d have to go back to 1974 to find the last NCAA tournament that didn’t feature either Kentucky or UNC. Yet despite their recent victories — each team has won five of their past six — the programs find themselves in precarious positions: No. 10 seeds in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, prior to their overtime victories on Saturday.
The reasons? Youth. Inconsistency. Defense.
UK (15-6, 6-2 SEC), the defending national champion, lost six players to the NBA draft after beating Kansas last April. Since then, Kentucky brought in ESPN.com’s second-ranked recruiting class, began the season ranked No. 3 in The Associated Press poll — and then slid all the way out of the ratings after falling to Duke early, then losing consecutive games to Notre Dame and Baylor in late November/early December.
My view? It’s a great parlor game to try to say that UK and UNC will not make the tournament, but if either team finishes with 20+ wins, they should be a lock to make the Big Dance. As a matter of fact, Kentucky SHOULD be ranked when the polls come out today due to the sheer number of teams that have lost the last two weeks. If you use that logic to only drop Louisville to #12 after three straight losses, you have to put UK back in the top 25.
As I said, it’s a great “will they or won’t they” game for pundits to play concerning UK’s NCAA future, but UK will go dancing. There are saner heads at ESPN as Eammon Brennan thinks Kentucky may finally be rounding into shape:
Look, the Wildcats still aren’t pretty, and they are hardly dominating some of the SEC’s more mediocre competition. But they are holding on to big wins on the road, and that’s a serious improvement from where they were even a month ago. On Saturday, it was a 72-68 overtime victory at Texas A&M — a team that beat the Wildcats in their own place just a few weeks ago — but earlier this week it was an even more impressive victory at Ole Miss. There are still plenty of things the Wildcats can clean up, but it’d be foolish to overlook their improvement. Oh, and while we’re on the topic, it’d be equally foolish to ignore how well Nerlens Noel is playing. Noel, who had 12 blocks at Ole Miss, notched 19 points and 14 rebounds, along with 4 assists, 2 blocks, a steal and a handful of other deflections and challenged shots. Noel faced brutal expectations at the beginning of the season, and he’ll never be Anthony Davis. But being Noel is pretty darn good, too
John Calipari is dominating recruiting in the present, so it makes sense he is reaching toward the future as well. So far, only one sophomore in the 2015 class owns an offer from UK, and it is an unlikely player. Skal Labissiere is the #5 recruit in the 2015 class, and is a 6’10 Haitain with a sweet shooting touch. Forget the days when a player from Haiti would be a project, as John Calipari offered Labissiere literally on the spot:
Legendary Tennessee high school coach Terry Tippett clearly remembers his first encounter with Labissiere.
It was 2010, and the 6-foot-10 Haitian had left his homeland in hopes of playing basketball in the United States.
Tippett, a Hall of Fame coach with 40 years of experience in Tennessee hoops, was in charge of Evangelical Christian School in Memphis.
When he first saw Labissiere, Tippett was skeptical.
“He was a string bean,” Tippett said. “I thought he was so thin and so weak.”
Then they went into the gym.
“He shot the ball and I said, ‘Oh, man!’” Tippett recalled. “It came out of his hands so soft. Jump hooks. He went right and left. He can really do anything with the ball.”
Labissiere (pronounced La-biss-EE-ay) ended up enrolling at Evangelical Christian and playing for the varsity basketball team as an eighth-grader.
Word eventually spread to Kentucky Coach John Calipari, who called Tippett — an acquaintance from his Memphis days — to ask if Labissiere was “good enough” to play for the Wildcats.
“I think so,” Tippett told him.
On that recommendation, Calipari made the trip to see Evangelical Christian’s first game of the season.
“He came and took a look and really liked him,” Tippett said. “And he offered him that night. He just came in and saw the potential that the kid has.
Keep in mind that Karl Towns Jr was originally a member of the 2015 class but later transferred into 2014.