Kentucky basketball: What Saturday's loss says about UK's NCAA Tournament chances
Kentucky is a good basketball team, but …
The time for “but” is past.
Throughout the season, Kentucky has been a good team, but … There has always been a qualifier, an exception, a reason that the Wildcats were just good, but could evolve to great. Kentucky was good, but wait until TyTy Washington got more consistent. Kentucky was good, but wait until Shaedon Sharpe arrived. Kentucky was good, but wait until the guards got healthy again. Kentucky was good, but wait until the other freshmen bonded. Kentucky was good, but wait until the SEC Tournament.
Thanks to Tennessee’s 69-62 victory over Kentucky, it’s time for the Wildcats to move on past the time for “but.”
Kentucky is a good team. After a 9-16 season in 2021, a good team has been a cool drink of water in the midst of a relative basketball desert for Big Blue Nation. A good team has reached the nation’s top 5, has given its fans a historic season from Oscar Tshiebwe, and has had moments like a 28-point win over Tennessee, an 18-point win at Kansas, and a 29-point beatdown of North Carolina.
But Kentucky is not a great team. A great team doesn’t lose the regular-season title to Auburn and the conference tournament title to UT or A&M. A great team doesn’t shoot 2-for-20 from 3 point range in the SEC Tournament semifinals. A great team doesn’t play sloppy and or disinterested as often as this UK team does, and doesn’t look so vulnerable away from Rupp Arena.
There is good news and bad news. The upcoming NCAA Tournament is chock full of good teams and has few to zero great teams. Look around college basketball. Who lost in their conference tournaments? Auburn, Duke, Baylor, many of the sport’s other big dogs. Who are the behemoths? Gonzaga is talented, but it’s fair to wonder again how they will react to power conference athleticism. Arizona is tough, but the last team west of Kansas to win the NCAA Tournament? That would be Arizona. In 1997.
Even if Kentucky is just a good team, good teams reach Final Fours, and occasionally even win NCAA titles. It takes that 6-game run, and with a little luck, some good matchups, and favorable outcomes in a few key areas, Kentucky can get there. Kentucky’s famous 1958 squad, known as the Fiddlin’ Five, is a great example of a good team that caught fire at the right moment (and played the Final Four in Louisville, but that’s another story).
But a great team doesn’t have to concern itself as much with the twists and turns of fate. Baylor was a dangerously athletic team in the regional finals in 2012. Not to mention drawing Louisville in the national semifinals, and Kansas in the title game. But it didn’t matter; a great Kentucky team won. They didn’t have to reconfigure what they did — they just did it anyway.
This team isn’t the 2012 Kentucky team. But it doesn’t have to be. Kentucky is kind of ordinary, but so is the rest of college basketball. Like the Purdues and Houstons and Villanovas of the world, Kentucky has a chance. It’s not a great chance. But it is a chance.
Kentucky is a good team. Good teams can win. But the Wildcats better get to work.