Kentucky closer to edge with Arkansas loss
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — If Kentucky manages to eke its way into the NCAA tournament, it will require a two-week grind all the way until Selection Sunday for the defending national champions, who now find themselves sitting squarely on the cut line.
There is no shame in losing at Arkansas – Florida was blown out here Feb. 5 – but today’s 73-60 loss here only reaffirmed how small Kentucky’s margin for error is heading into the final week of the regular season. And it may require a victory over Florida in the regular season finale or in the SEC tournament to squeeze the Wildcats into the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats were barely an NCAA tournament team when Nerlens Noel, the projected No. 1 NBA draft pick, suffered a season-ending knee injury Feb. 12 at Florida. Since having to re-prove itself to the NCAA tournament selection committee, Kentucky has been nothing if not uneven, which is at least better than some thought they’d be in Noel’s absence.
A 30-point loss at Tennessee. A season-stabilizing victory against likely NCAA tournament team Missouri. And now another setback against a team that has won all but one game at home all season.
The Wildcats (20-9, 11-5 SEC) need to avoid a loss at Georgia on March 7 before they get another chance at SEC-leading Florida, which remains in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. After that looms the SEC tournament in Nashville, where opportunities for quality victories will be few and far between.
No season at Kentucky is ever devoid of pressure. Almost every game serves as a referendum on players and the coach. But there has been less than usual for John Calipari this season because of two accomplishments: last season’s national championship and the historically strong recruiting class that he is assembling for next season.
If this group of freshmen (minus Noel) can’t carry the Wildcats into the NCAA tournament, a new crop that includes touted guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison from Texas and wing James Young from Michigan, among others, will be expected to do so as soon as they arrive on campus in … [For more on Kentucky steps closer to the edge with loss at Arkansas, click here.]