How costly is Kentucky’s résumé stain?
by Patrick Stevens, Special for USA TODAY Sports
Days until Selection Sunday: 9
The big picture:
Who wants an NCAA tournament bid? Somehow
No, seriously, who wants one?
Take a look at Friday morning’s at-large board. Of the 17 teams between No. 33 (Villanova) and No. 49 (Southern Mississippi), a whopping 16 of them have lost at least once in the last week. A few of them lost twice.
The sole outlier is Stanford, a team that picked up a solid victory at California but has also let inertia do a little bit of work for it. The Cardinal looked like it was toast after a home loss to Colorado last week. Yet despite an underwhelming profile (6-13 against the top 100) that is mercifully devoid of any cringe-worthy defeats, Stanford might be able to make an at-large case with a decent Pac-12 tournament run.
That will depend on whether bid thieves emerge from other conferences (a distinct possibility in places like the Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley) or if the many borderline teams bobbing along on the bubble can make runs of their own. Based on the last week, that isn’t likely to be a common occurrence.
Hot seat: Kentucky
There’s not a particularly good reason for Kentucky to still be in the at-large chase. The Wildcats have one top-50 victory (Missouri). They are without injured freshman Nerlens Noel, who provided an authoritative defensive presence. They now have a loss to a team outside the top 100 of the RPI after falling at Georgia on Thursday.
And yet the Wildcats still have a shot at earning an at-large bid, a fact that speaks as much to the inability of bubble teams to seize opportunities as it does Kentucky’s own mediocre results.
Let’s be clear of something: Kentucky, even without Noel, has talent. It isn’t mature and it isn’t consistent, but it does exist and could provide a serious scare to a high seed if the Wildcats make the tournament.
The problem is getting there, and the Wildcats will need to find a path to the postseason Saturday against Florida and in next weekend’s SEC tournament.
Teams that took a step forward, however modest, on Thursday…