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NBC puts UK basketball in second-tier of title contenders

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They are on the rise, but not quite there yet according to NBC.

Jamie Boggs - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in college basketball, and everyone is starting to take notice in looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament.

However, ranked at No. 8 in the country they are not a favorite just yet.

NBC’s Rob Dauster recently published the top two tiers of his list of teams with the potential to win it all. The first tier is titled “The Elite of the Elite,” and the second is called “One Tweak Away From Being The Elite of the Elite.” The Wildcats find themselves in the latter category.

The Elite of the Elite

Duke Blue Devils

Tennessee Volunteers

Virginia Cavaliers

Michigan Wolverines

Michigan State Spartans

Gonzaga Bulldogs

One Tweak Away From Being The Elite of the Elite

Kentucky Wildcats

North Carolina Tar Heels

Kansas Jayhawks

Dauster seems to genuinely believe Kentucky is on the verge of entering the top tier. Unlike other teams on the second list, Kentucky’s section of why they have a chance is much larger than the section describing their inadequacies.

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: The talent on this roster is all coming together now.

We can differ about the reason why it’s happening. Some will argue that the emergence of Ashton Hagans has the starting point guard has given Kentucky an emotional leader that brings a level of toughness and confidence that has become contagious. I’m sure that plays a big role in it, as does Tyler Herro starting to play like the go-to guy we (I) thought he would be coming into the season. P.J. Washington is playing the best basketball of his Kentucky career. Nick Richards is starting to figure some things out. Immanuel Quickly has been effective as a bench option, and Keldon Johnson has continued to be as awesome as he was from day one.

The truth, however, is simpler than all of that: John Calipari has a proven track record of being capable of bringing young teams along and making them better and better as the season progresses, and honestly, that’s probably all this is. His guys are figuring it out, as they always do, and they now look like one of the nation’s best.

He’s not wrong. This team seems to be clicking on most cylinders, and most agree that the ceiling is much higher than the solid play we have seen as of late. And while the Wildcats are not perfect, his one knock on their title chances seems like less of an issue than most Kentucky faithful believe.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: Just how good is Ashton Hagans offensively? Coming into this season, that was the concern. He was a mess on that end of the floor. He was making the wrong read, he was turning the ball over and he was not a threat to score. He’s gotten much better, but he’s still not a threat from the perimeter, and while I would not call him a liability offensively anymore, he is still limited.

I would never describe Hagans as an offensive juggernaut. However, he has averaged 13.1 points per game in the last six outings, shooting over 50% from the floor in all but one of those. He is finally confident in taking the ball to the rack, and he has been a strong free throw shooter. When everyone else is contributing, he does not need to score a ton.

The rest of Dauster’s comments are in line with what John Calipari has been saying for weeks. If this is to be a championship team, Nick Richards needs to be the guy to have the most growth between now and March.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: If Kentucky is going to reach their ceiling they need Nick Richards to be good enough to knock Reid Travis out of the starting lineups. I like Travis, he is a monster on the block and a guy that can really rebound the ball, but he is not a vertical spacer or a rim-protector, and that’s what this Kentucky team needs inside. Travis has had one good game in SEC play (at Auburn) and Richards still can’t crack the starting lineup. That should tell you what you need to know about where Richards is right now.

Dauster’s breakdown of each team’s strengths and weaknesses helps reinforce the fact that there are several championship-caliber teams, all with their own kryptonite that could stop them from winning six games in a row during the NCAA Tournament.

College basketball is awesome.

Check out the entire post about the title contenders here.