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Kentucky’s NCAA tournament hope dwindling
Posted By HOOPSWORLD On February 18, 2013 @ 3:57 am In Wirenews | Comments Disabled
by Patrick Stevens, Special for USA TODAY Sports
Days until Selection Sunday: 27
On Monday’s hot seat: Kentucky Wildcats.
It was not a good week for Kentucky.
First, freshman center Nerlens Noel went down with a torn ACL in a loss at Southeastern Conference leader Florida. Then the Wildcats, playing their first full game without Noel, were smoked 88-58 at Tennessee on Saturday.
It was enough to knock Kentucky out of Monday’s NCAA tournament bracket projection, and the Wildcats’ problems are two-pronged just four weeks from Selection Sunday.
It remains to be seen just how capable John Calipari’s team proves to be without Noel, who was averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks. The Wildcats will clearly be different, and the tournament selection committee will closely evaluate how Kentucky fares in the portion of their schedule without Noel.
Teams are generally judged on the totality of their season, with attempts made to limit any sort of impact of recent performance. But a significant injury changes that for the defending national champs.
There’s also the matter of Kentucky’s limited achievements to date. The Wildcats are 17-8, but are winless in four games against the top 50 of the RPI. Even with Noel, Kentucky still had to work to do.
It will likely prove more difficult without the star freshman, especially if Saturday is any indication.
One of the weekend’s biggest winners was Maryland. The Terrapins upended Duke 83-81 at home to tack a second top-25 RPI win onto its resume. Maryland (18-7) still has a dreadful nonconference strength of schedule to contend with, and enter a stretch (at Boston College, Clemson, at Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest) where it will be crucial to avoid getting dealt a damaging loss. The Terps are far from a sure-thing and are the third team out of Monday’s projection.
Temple is one of the most fascinating teams at the moment. The Owls (17-8) rebounded from a shocking loss to Duquesne with a victory at fellow bubbler Massachusetts and find themselves very much a part of the tournament conversation. But look at the recent results: Temple’s last five games were all decided by a point.
Illinois continues its surge up the board. … [For more on Bubble Watch: Kentucky's NCAA tournament hope keeps dwindling, click here.]
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