The Kentucky Wildcats haven’t had quite the kind of season we’d all envisioned in the preseason.
They’ve been upset a couple of times, and they’ve dropped games to Louisville and Kansas. However, when you put it all into perspective, they still look pretty good as we approach the NCAA Tournament.
With their style of play and their pace when everyone is healthy, ESPN sees the ‘Cats as a team that is highly unlikely to be shocked early on in the tournament.
Three losses in four games sent Wildcats fans into a tailspin at the beginning of this month, and coach John Calipari played his ruefulness to the hilt, saying, "Maybe we've hit bottom, and maybe we haven't." So buy low. There probably was never any need to panic -- a flu bug had hit half of Kentucky's roster, and anyone could lose to Kansas and Florida. But particularly from a Giant Killers perspective, Calipari's crew is still primed for a deep NCAA tournament run. Four Wildcats regulars are shooting better than 55 percent from inside, and with few turnovers and top-30 offensive rebounding, Kentucky is scoring 119.6 adjusted points per possession, the seventh-highest rate in the country. They allow opponents to shoot just 32 percent on 3s (ranking 43rd). And they play very fast, averaging 74.1 possessions per game, 13th-most in the NCAA. So they just run away from the kinds of teams they are likely to see early in the tournament. On their way to attempting 71 field goals, amassing 21 offensive rebounds and forcing 19 turnovers against Valparaiso in December, the Wildcats led 23-4 after 10 minutes of play. That's what Kentucky can do to a Killer.
Their “Giant Rating” is 95.3, which ranks fifth.
Hopefully ESPN is right, because there have been plenty of fears from BBN that Kentucky will get bounced in the first weekend. Then again, of the five losses they’s suffered, four of them are to teams currently ranked in the top 13 of the latest Coaches Poll, and the loss to Tennessee was on the road with De’Aaron Fox dealing with an ankle injury.
Kentucky may very well lose in the tournament, but don’t expect it to be at the hands of a Cinderella team, at least based on this study.