John Clay had a piece up yesterday looking at how differently the computers and media saw the Wildcats when it comes to where they are ranked. Really, the big differences are found in the RPI and the BPI. Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin and the media are all pretty much together on where the Wildcats belong.
When it comes to the media, I think this is the natural consequence of last season, exacerbated by the "disappointment" of this season so far. In reality, it is groupthink — many in the media expressed skepticism of this UK squad early on, but fell in line and voted them the top pre-season pick anyway. But last year's meltdown has left a "scar" on media voters' psyche when it comes to teams with so many freshmen, especially when they are playing in a conference that is universally considered weak. They are far more leery of Kentucky that the computers are, who don't care how long the Wildcats have been playing college basketball.
To be fair, Kentucky fans including myself undoubtedly don't consider the fact that the UK starters are all freshmen to be all that problematic, and therein lies a kind of bias also. We expect every team to develop like 2012, and when that just doesn't happen, we wind up with expectations that require some revision and perhaps a complete overhaul.
I tend to place more faith in the computers than the media and coaches this far into the season, but honestly, I don't think the media have it all that wrong. My perception is that Kentucky is somewhere between 10 and 20 in the country right now, and even though I'd have them closer to the top of that range than the bottom, those that disagree will not get much argument from me. One thing I have learned over the last four seasons is that Calipari doesn't have some kind of pact with Satan that allows him to create national title winners with nothing more than raw talent and a clipboard.
I just saw Jerry Tipton quote Joe Lunardi over Twitter offer this quote:
Lunardi: UK a 5- or 6-seed "unless they beat Florida."— Jerry Tipton (@JerryTipton) February 26, 2014
With due respect to Lunardi, I don't quite buy that. I also don't quite buy the notion the SEC is as weak as the media, including Lunardi, think it is. Again, this looks like groupthink to me. Here's why:
Consider 2013: St. Louis wound up a four seed with a record likely to resemble Kentucky this season, a weaker schedule, and average RPI wins and losses to worse teams. The accomplished that by beating VCU and Butler in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Arizona wound up getting a six seed in the tournament with a similar likely result, slightly worse RPI and after losing three of their last five games. Kansas St. got a four seed in a very similar situation to Kentucky this season and a much weaker RPI, and having lost to all their top opponents save one. Given where Kentucky is, I think they can lose to Florida and still get a four seed, but it wouldn't shock me if they slipped a seed line. A six seems unlikely unless they lose another game other than Florida or bow out early in the SEC Tournament.
With all that said, there is no telling what the committee might do. They think along the same lines as many of the media and say that five freshman starters deserve a lower seed. That would not surprise me in the least, but I remind you that Wichita St. got to the Final Four last year from the 9 seed line, and it would take a complete collapse for Kentucky to drop that low. The Shockers got there with average skill and superior experience. Kentucky could easily do the inverse of that, and get there with superior skill and inferior experience.
Obviously, none of that matters right now; what does matter is for Kentucky to play the opponent right in front of them. If the Wildcats arrive in Gainesville on Saturday, March 8th undefeated since last facing the Gators, I think the debate about six and even five seeds will have largely evaporated. I think too much emphasis is being placed by observers on what they think the Wildcats ought to be doing in conference rather than the fact that they are doing the needful — winning games.
Which brings me to another point. John Calipari discussed recently his approach to recruiting, and told Tom Leach on Monday night that he wasn't changing his approach:
"It may be wrong the way I do this, but I’m not changing. Let’s focus on getting guys as good as we can, let’s focus on individual players, we bring a team together, and then in the end, everything becomes team. Now, people will say you should be team first and then work on the individuals, and well, maybe, but all I know is, if I can get everybody right and get them all on the same page, you become a juggernaut. Let’s see how this plays out."
So there you go; according to Coach Cal, it's business as usual and damn the torpedoes. And honestly, from a players' standpoint, you can't really gainsay him — he's recruiting the same kind of players as he always has. There is, however, the additional point that he's making sure he has a full roster, whereas before, that was less of a priority. And also, we never saw a three-star player recruited by Calipari until this past year, when both Derek Willis and Dominque Hawkins were recruited and signed by Coach Cal. That's different.
I think the reality is that Calipari is changing his approach, but just not in the way that some UK fans think he should. Honestly, I don't care much if he does or doesn't — all I care about is that he recruit guys that are ready to win NCAA tournaments immediately if we are going to send four or five to the NBA every year. So far, the only real faux pas was 2013 — there's not much doubt in my mind this current team is capable, but for that to happen, they have to continue to make significant improvements game by game.
In summary, I like this team for a 4 seed, and I think they could get as high as a 2 if they win out from here to the SEC Tournament final — although that might require a little help. But that help is likely to come in some measure, as teams above Kentucky can have hot streaks or cold spells toward the end of the season, when every game seems to be so important. As to Calipari's recruiting, whatever he does is fine by me. He knows that as long as he continues to produce winners and teams able to challenge for the NCAA Tournament championship, fans aren't going to be selling their Rupp Arena season tickets any time soon.