Following an 86-69 win over the Vols, Kentucky now has seven wins over NET top-30 teams, two of which are over top-10 clubs in Tennessee and North Carolina.
That alone tells you that Kentucky deserves to be considered one of college basketball’s truly elite squads, and the advanced analytics agree.
KenPom now has Kentucky ranked fifth overall, a two-spot rise from where they were going into Saturday. This is the highest Kentucky has been ranked since they were sixth overall going into their Game 1 matchup with Duke.
A big part of that was the offense having its way with the Vols, as Kentucky now ranks 14th in offensive efficiency, a four-spot rise.
Defense is still Kentucky’s calling card, as they now rank seventh in defensive efficiency. Even though the Vols got to 69 points, they did so while shooting 40.7% from the field and 28% from three-point land with a season-low 11 assists.
As for the rest of the regular season, KenPom projects Kentucky to finish with 25-6 record, even though they give the Cats a 65% or better chance to win in five of their final six games. The only game where Kentucky will be an underdog is at Tennessee, as KenPom gives the Vols a 61% chance of beating the Cats in Knoxville.
The next likeliest loss is at Ole Miss, as the Rebels are back on the cusp of top-25 status after winning four-straight games, including a huge road win at Auburn.
Speaking of, the Tigers come to Rupp Arena this Saturday in need of a signature win to avoid being a 7/8 seed in the Big Dance, which is where many projections currently have them. They’re also the kind of team that can light up Rupp if the Cats don’t come to play, so this will be a trickier game than the records indicate.
Elsewhere, Seth Davis of CBS Sports thinks Kentucky is the second-best team right now behind only Duke:
So my ballot looking like...— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 17, 2019
Just in time for March
Davis tends to be pretty critical of John Calipari and Kentucky, so seeing him rank the Cats this high says something. You could make an argument that Gonzaga and Virginia should still be ahead of the Cats, but the Bulldogs haven’t played any legitimate teams since the middle of December.
As for Virginia, they haven’t been quite as dominant lately as they were earlier this season. Their last five games have included a 10-point home loss to Duke, a one-point overtime win over an NC State team that may not make the NCAA Tournament, and two uninspiring wins over Notre Dame and Miami teams that may not even make the NIT.
However, the Cavaliers did pick up a big road win at North Carolina, so they still should be ahead of Kentucky, even if it is the Cats who are playing better right now.
I’d say John Calipari likes his team and where they’re at as March inches closer.