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Kentucky Basketball’s path to an NCAA Tournament bid is a rocky one

The Cats have some work to do with tough games down the stretch.

UK Huddle Toppin Oscar Tshiebwe

Tuesday night served as a great opportunity for the Kentucky Wildcats to put a strong win on their weak NCAA Tournament resume. Instead, the Wildcats fell apart in the second half vs. Arkansas, and now things look a lot shakier down the home stretch for Kentucky.

Kentucky sits at 16-8 on the season, tied for 4th in the conference with Auburn, which on the surface doesn’t sound too bad, but the Cats only have one significant win on the season (on the road at Tennessee) and hold a 1-7 record in Quad 1 games.

Oh, and Tennessee just lost at Vanderbilt, who entered the day ranked 106th in NET. So that great win is suddenly not looking so great.

That, along with Kentucky’s horrific loss at home to South Carolina (the Gamecocks’ lone conference win), has the Cats sitting firmly on the bubble.

Kentucky will have a chance to pick up some resume-building wins in this final month of the season, but there’s a key word there: Win.

There are no guarantees in this final stretch of seven games. During that stretch, the Cats will face several formidable foes.

  • They will go on the road to Athens for a matchup against a Bulldogs squad that scored 42 points in the first half and led by eight in the first matchup at Rupp Arena.
  • They will go to Starkville to take on a Mississippi State squad currently on a three-game winning streak and allowing the sixth-fewest points of any team in college basketball.
  • They will host a Tennessee team that will have revenge on their mind after being upset in Knoxville.
  • They will go to Gainesville to take on a Florida team that played Kentucky tough in Lexington.
  • They will host an Auburn team that Kentucky is 5-5 against in the last 10 matchups.
  • They will host a Vanderbilt team that should be healthier than they were in the first matchup, as evidenced by their recent win over Tennessee.
  • Finally, they go on the road to Fayetteville, one of the toughest arenas in the conference, to take on an Arkansas squad that just won by 15 in Rupp and will likely have star freshman Nick Smith back from injury.

This schedule gives plenty of chances for quality wins for Kentucky.

The Mississippi State, Tennessee, Florida, and Arkansas games all should be Quad 1, and Auburn will be a borderline Quad 1/Quad 2 game.

However, Kentucky’s track record in those types of games this season doesn’t provide a lot of room for optimism.

If the Cats can somehow go 5-2 in that stretch and avoid bad losses at Georgia or against Vanderbilt, the Cats will probably be safe.

But, I think the more likely scenario is Kentucky goes 4-3 or 3-4 in that stretch of games, and then it is much more up in the air. A lack of quality wins to go with a bad loss to South Carolina likely leaves Kentucky on the outside looking in barring a big run in the SEC Tournament, especially when you consider there are typically two or more bid stealers across all the conference tournaments.

The Cats are running out of time to make their case to the Selection Committee, and they missed a big opportunity Tuesday night.

Now, Kentucky has a rocky path to being in the Big Dance, and the Big Blue Nation is faced with a possible third year of not making the NCAA Tournament under John Calipari, something that would have been considered unthinkable just a few years ago.