Throughout the final months of the college basketball season, Athlon Sports will take a quick snapshot of key movers in the potential NCAA field. Who's moving up? Who's moving down? Who's on the bubble and who's off? What can we expect in the coming days from these teams.
We start with Kentucky, which has followed up its national title season with a year of postseason uncertainty. The Wildcats defeated Ole Miss 87-74 on the road for their best win of the season, which is good news for UK’s Tourney hopes.
By the numbers
Record: 14-6, 5-2 SEC
Reasons for optimism
In the numbers game: Kentucky lacked a top-60 win until Tuesday night, when the Wildcats picked up an 87-74 road win over Ole Miss. The Wildcats’ victory was a good two-fer: Defeating an opponent in the top 40 of the RPI and doing so on the road. Although it’s been a disappointing season for Kentucky, the Wildcats have few bad losses. An 83-71 home loss to Texas A&M is the worst mark on Kentucky’s NCAA resume, now that the Wildcats have picked up a top-40 win.
In the real game: Kentucky’s talented, for sure, but it’s been a long wait for a group of potential first-round NBA draft picks to put it together. Freshman Nerlens Noel is having a standout defensive season. Meanwhile, sophomore Kyle Wiltjer has been an unexpected spark on offense. He scored 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting against Ole Miss and has averaged 16.4 points in his last five games.
Reasons for concern
This remains a young team that is a week removed from a 59-55 loss to Alabama. The Wildcats are 13th in the SEC in turnover margin in conference games, thanks to forcing the fewest turnovers in the league (9.7 per game). The SEC will offer more opportunities for bad losses than good wins in the remainder of the schedule. The margin of error is slim.
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Kentucky is probably in the field as of today, but the Wildcats need to mind the schedule for the remainder of the season. Facing RPI No. 7 Florida twice in the final eight regular season games is probably good news for a team anchored by freshmen. Otherwise, Florida and No. 28 Missouri are the only top-75 the Wildcats will face in the regular season. In comparison, Kentucky will face two teams ranked 200th or worse (Auburn and Mississippi State) and three more ranked 100th or worse (South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Georgia).