A Game of Kentucky Wildcat NCAA Tournament Bubble Bobble

In 1986, Bubble Bobble was a popular Nintendo game that featured two twin dragon brothers that travel through levels blowing and popping bubbles, avoiding enemies and collecting items with the hopes of rescuing their girlfriends from robots.

Some 27 years later, despite having likely never heard of the game, the Kentucky Men’s basketball team has seemingly mirrored the plot line, simply substituting the rescue of “girlfriends” for the invitation to the NCAA Tournament. The team has gone through the last 5 months blowing and bursting their own bubbles, fittingly finding themselves currently sitting smack dab in the middle of the last 4-5 teams to make the tournament after this weekend’s home win against Florida.

Tonight, we’ll recap using levels of data, why Kentucky still has a chance at the big dance, where they are and breakdown the wins and losses, starting with their overall schedule and RPI used to make the following assumptions:

Team Current RPI
Alabama 63
Arkansas 79
Auburn 243
Baylor 61
Duke 1
East. Michigan 233
Florida 6
Georgia 125
Lafayette 161
Lipscomb 237
Long Island 184
Louisville 3
LSU 90
Marshall 203
Maryland 86
Mississippi 56
Mississippi St. 232
Missouri 34
Morehead St. 171
Notre Dame 44
Portland 229
Samford 291
South Carolina 211
Tennessee 55
Texas A&M 97
Vanderbilt 127

Here’s the summary:

 RPI Ranking W L
Top 25 1 3
25-50 1 1
51-100 5 5
101-200 5 1
>200 9  0
21 10

While the Wildcats have lost 10 games, prior to Thursday night’s loss to Georgia in Athens, Kentucky hadn’t lost to a team with an RPI worse than 100 (Texas A&M 97). The loss to Georgia gave Kentucky their first and only “bad loss”, which is typically seen as any team with an RPI over 100.

W’s With Nerlens Noel W’s Without  Total L’s With Nerlens Noel L’s Without  Total
1) 25  0 1 1 3  0 3
2) 25-50  0 1 1 1 1
3) 100 5  0 5 3 2 5
4) 200 4 1 5  0 1 1
5) >200 8 1 9  0  0  0
Grand   Total 17 4 21 7 3 10

Since Nerlens Noel’s injury on February 12th, Kentucky is 4-3. The good news for the Cats is that both of the teams best wins have come during this time (Missouri 34, Florida 6), meaning Kentucky has the ability to play with top teams, something many didn’t think was true after a horrific loss in Knoxville against Tennessee.

The bad news is that two of their three worse losses have come during this time as well (Georgia 125, Arkansas 79). Prior to Noel’s departure, the team’s worse RPI loss was Texas A&M (97) followed by Arkansas (63), with an RPI 63 loss being stomach-able being on the road.

neutral neutral   Total home home Total away away Total Grand Total
W L W L W L
1) 25 1 1 1 1 2 2 4
2) 25-50 1 1 1 1 2
3) 100 1 1 2 2 4 2 3 5 10
4) 200 4 4 1 1 2 6
5) >200 8 8 1 1 9
Grand   Total 1 1 2 16 2 18 4 7 11 31

Data, data, data… right? Well behind all data is the following information: Kentucky is a much, much better home team… obviously, right? Let’s look behind those number though.

W’s W’s W Total L’s L’s L Total
With Without With Without
1) 25 0 1 1 3 0 3
neutral 0 0 0 1 0 1
home 0 1 1 0 0 0
away 0 0 0 2 0 2
2) 25-50 0 1 1 1 0 1
home 0 1 1 0 0 0
away 0 0 0 1 0 1
3) 100 5 0 5 3 2 5
neutral 1 0 1 0 0 0
home 2 0 2 2 0 2
away 2 0 2 1 2 3
4) 200 4 1 5 0 1 1
home 3 1 4 0 0 0
away 1 0 1 0 1 1
5) >200 8 1 9 0 0 0
home 7 1 8 0 0 0
away 1 0 1 0 0 0
Grand Total 17 4 21 7 3 10

What wasn’t so obvious is that Kentucky is playing tougher games without Noel and statistically gotten better at home against those teams as they averaged an RPI of 192 with him and averaged an RPI of 99 without.

What is also not as obvious is that Noel’s loss appears to have effected Kentucky more so on the road where their average RPI L with Noel is 74 and without is 86.

Yes – you’re numbered out at this point, but consider one more, Kentucky will play Arkansas (79) or Vanderbilt (125) on Friday during the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. RPI money says cheer for Arkansas, it’s a better opponent and Kentucky and a lot worse away from Fayetteville (1-9 away, 0-2 neutral).

After that game, if the Cats pull it off Friday, its Ole Miss, Missouri, Texas A&M or Auburn. All of which Kentucky has beaten, but my take is that Kentucky wants to avoid Missouri after a narrow victory at home and instead see Ole Miss, with an RPI of 56 but 6-6 in their last 12 games including losses to Mississippi State (RPI 232) on 3-2. It’s a soft 56.

If Kentucky wins against Mississippi or Missouri, or loses to Missouri, they likely dance… any other losses likely show a sign of their bubble bobbled and busted.

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