This is one big reason UK is Now a Top 5 team. - USA TODAY Sports
UK is now ranked #5/4, but some folks have suggested they are not as good as ranked. Are They right?
What do rankings mean? Ask Kentucky Coach, and he will tell you that while rankings can be an indicator of past accomplishments, they are in no way a true barometer of where you are headed. Rankings cannot predict what your team will do against tough competition, and there are too many variables to know if a ranking is deserved or not.
Ranked at #5/4 buy AP/USA Today polls, Kentucky now sits where they have never been before. They are tied for the best record in Division I Women's Basketball with Baylor (Kentucky's only loss), Notre Dame, Connecticut, and Duke as far as losses go, and they have more wins than anyone other than #11/16 North Carolina. But has their schedule been tough? RealTimeRPI.com lists Kentucky with an RPI of #9, at .6636 and a S.O.S. of #54. For comparison, Baylor, which is the #1 team in the country has an RPI of .7230, and a S.O.S. of #4.
Now there are two schools of thought here. Some will say you can't change the conference you play in when they are not as highly ranked as they could be. But conference scheduling is not a problem for Kentucky, as the SEC is one of, if not the highest ranked conference for Women's Basketball in the country, unlike the desolation of the Men's Basketball ranking for the conference. The SEC boasts 4 of the Top 25 women's teams right now in UK, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina, and many other schools are not far off the mark. From top to bottom the SEC is excellent in rankings, RPI, and competition.
What about UK's non-conference schedule? Well, UK has split its two games with ranked opponents. The aforementioned loss to Baylor is offset somewhat by a defeat of then #6 ranked Louisville at Louisville, and both of these games came before UK had started wailing on their opponents and running up scores that would make their male counterparts jealous. The Baylor loss hurts nothing, because, frankly, Baylor beats everyone. Their lone loss to then #4 ranked Stanford was back in November, when they too were still not completely in sync as a team. Stanford is another example of what rankings can show, as their only 2 defeats took place against #2 UCONN, and #7 Cal, both at home.
#4/5 Duke's lone loss, which may move them under UK by the ranking's next week, was to #2 UCONN in Monday night. So what you have in the top 1-5 teams is a virtual logjam, with no one able to get out in front of the pack and stay there, although Baylor, in my opinion, is a clear #1, and may not lose again this season. Then again, UK could also play its way into the NCAA Championship game with only 1 defeat. The rest of the season holds two more matchups between #2 UCONN and Top 5 ranked teams in Baylor and Notre Dame, which, in my mind gives them the toughest schedule in the country, something they are more than familiar with, as they play everyone in the top 5 save Kentucky. Kentucky, while not facing the very elite in conference play, faces 7 ranked teams this season with 6 of them being in SEC scheduling.
This is something that the UK Women do well. They play a balanced schedule, with tough opponents all along the way, in hopes of preparation for post season tournament action. Most NCAA Men's teams approach scheduling the same way. What you do not see in Women's play, which is sadly lacking in my opinion, is the promoted mini-tournaments, challenges, and early season high-profile games that promote the sport. Imagine an Alaska Shootout with UK, UCONN, Duke, Baylor, Cal, and Stanford all a part of it. Imagine an early season matchup where you have UK vs. Duke and UConn vs. Baylor as the two advertised games in Madison Square Garden. These are the areas where the Men outshine the Women. Not in competition, nor in ability, but in promotion. We have the Wooden Classic, why not the Summitt Classic?
The best part is that UK is now on a level with these elite teams and can participate on an even playing field. UK's facilities are not the best in the country for Women's Hoops, but they far outshine most. A move into Rupp Arena for the women would be a step in the right direction. We have one of the best coaches in the game in Matthew Mitchell. We are getting top flight talent as UK's line up of A'Dia Mathies, the SEC Player of the Year, DeNesha Stallworth, and Samarie Walker are all Top 25 recruits, as is UK Freshman Janee Thompson. All of these factors indicate one thing. UK is now a Top 10, if not Top 5 Women's Basketball school in the country, with the truth being that the top 7-10 schools in the country are pretty much interchangeable when it comes to rankings, talent, and what they have to offer. Brittney Griner, Baylor's incredible center, will leave them with a hole to fill when she graduates this year, and bring them back down to the rest of the group, but for now, they remain a step above everyone else.
No matter what, we have the blueprint for success in Basketball here at UK in both the Men's and Women's programs. This season has turned UK from above average to elite, and there appears to be no turning back. Are they as good as their ranking? Oh yeah. And win or lose, they are now on everyone's radar when the ball tips off. Come March, UK will feel redeemed with nothing less than a #1 Seed in the NCAA Tournament. And they are right to think so. They have now earned their place, and they play like it. If you don't believe me, ask the Head Coach at Auburn. She'll tell you.