Dribble Handoff: With Kentucky struggling so far, how will the Wildcats finish the regular season?

After starting the season ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25, Kentucky did not obtain a single vote on this week’s ballot amid a 1-3 begin to SEC play marked by an embarrassing 78-52 loss at Alabama on Saturday which was adopted by a 71-68 loss to South Carolina on Tuesday that snapped a 28-game profitable streak at Rupp Arena for the Wildcats. At No. 46 in the NET with an 0-4 file in Quad 1 video games, the Wildcats are a profound disappointment after returning nationwide participant of the yr Oscar Tshiebwe together with different key gamers equivalent to Sahvir Wheeler and Jacob Toppin from a 26-8 staff.

On the heels of a shocking upset loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the first spherical of final yr’s NCAA Tournament, frustration with 14th-year coach John Calipari is at an all-time excessive inside the UK fanbase. The program’s final win in the Big Dance got here in 2019, and it immediately seems as if there are not any ensures that 2023 will convey one.

But two months stay till Selection Sunday and Kentucky nonetheless has time to show issues round. Five-star freshmen Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston have every proven encouraging flashes and will solely enhance as the season progresses. Sharpshooting guard CJ Fredrick also needs to return from a finger damage sooner or later throughout league play.

The vary of outcomes for the Wildcats stays huge, and the saga of Calipari’s tenure reaching a essential juncture figures to seize the sport’s collective consideration for weeks to return. For this week’s version of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are providing their projections for how the remainder of Kentucky’s season will play out.

Cats a bubble staff, however makes Big Dance

  • Predicted convention file: 10-8
  • Predicted NCAA Tournament seed: No. 9

Kentucky has been unimpressive all season and does not appear on the verge of turning issues round. The Wildcats simply acquired blasted at Alabama by 26 factors. They’re 3-3 of their previous six video games, nonetheless in possession of zero Quadrant 1 wins and right down to forty fifth in the NET, 56th at BartTorvik.com and 62nd at KPI.

UK seems like a attainable bubble staff.

At this level, I’m skeptical the Wildcats will ever reside as much as the preseason expectations that had them ranked No. 1 at KenPom.com, in the high 5 mainly in all places and labeled as SEC favorites — however I nonetheless suppose they will land on the proper facet of the bubble and make the NCAA Tournament. And then… who is aware of? A yr in the past, UK had a terrific regular season adopted by a horrible NCAA Tournament. This yr might conceivably be the reverse — a disappointing regular season adopted by a pleasant NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats nonetheless have the reigning CBS Sports National Player of the Year (Oscar Tshiebwe) and a projected lottery choose (Cason Wallace). It’s not the most proficient roster John Calipari has ever assembled, nevertheless it’s nonetheless a extra proficient roster than most coaches have. Now it is only a matter of figuring some issues out, doing sufficient to make the discipline of 68, after which seeing if issues can break the proper means when that single-elimination match will get underway. — Gary Parrish

UK’s season stays bumpy however huge wins will come

  • Predicted convention file: 11-7
  • Predicted NCAA Tournament seed: No. 9

Although UK sits at 1-2 in the SEC — I count on it to be 2-2 after beating South Carolina at dwelling on Tuesday evening — that convention goes to be too powerful to fairly count on the Wildcats to tug off something better than a four-game profitable streak between now and the postseason. There are seven highway exams, plus a house recreation on Jan. 28 towards No. 2 Kansas in the last version of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. So, the losses will stack periodically. However, I count on Kentucky to seek out some decision and stiffen its protection.

I count on it to notch a couple of essential Quad 1 victories and guarantee it will dodge bubble speak by the second week of March. This goes to wind up being like the staff in 2014 that was in the 8/9 recreation. Because with 5 losses already and doubtless a minimum of one other 5 coming between now and Selection Sunday, it is optimistic to say Kentucky will earn a single-digit seed. I’ll say it does narrowly, although, because of an excellent exhibiting in the SEC Tournament. And: Kentucky’s going to beat Kansas later this month. — Matt Norlander

Wildcats hit stride by February

  • Predicted convention file: 13-5
  • Predicted NCAA Tournament seed: No. 6

There is little doubt that Kentucky has underperformed relative to preseason expectations and even relative to relaxed in-season expectations after struggling early prompted a tough reset. A ten-5 begin to the season is flat underachieving at Kentucky even if you happen to’ve acquired critical issues. There’s causes for cautious optimism, although. This is quietly considered one of the finest 3-point taking pictures groups Calipari has fielded at UK, and Oscar Tshiebwe, for all his struggles, has continued to be nails pounding the offensive glass and producing second-chance alternatives.

Some minor tweaks for participant roles and an elevated deal with doing what it does nicely — launching 3-pointers, feeding Cason Wallace alternatives to set the desk and getting Tshiebwe into favorable spots — could possibly be sufficient to show issues round. There’s nonetheless some stuff on the margins that wants vital enchancment — this staff is terrible at taking pictures free throws and it constantly runs into late-clock hero ball on offense — however I’ve seen sufficient positives to suppose it may be a No. 6 p. No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament and work its means again into being a top-15 degree staff by the finish of the regular season.. — Kyle Boone

UK in First Four, considered one of the final groups in Big Dance

  • Predicted convention file: 9-9
  • Predicted NCAA Tournament seed: No. 12 (First Four)

Kentucky performs an antiquated offensive type that’s outlined by a methodical tempo and restricted ground spacing. Without an elite protection that may constantly create transition alternatives, UK is getting slowed down in half-court units and struggling to discover a rhythm or construct momentum. Schematically talking, Calipari simply does not have it in him at this level in his profession to tug the strings essential to unlock the potential of this roster.

The SEC’s backside feeders will be certain that the Wildcats choose up a good variety of league victories. But UK doesn’t get a regular-season rematch with No. 4 Alabama, which places a heavy emphasis on two video games towards No. 5 Tennessee and two video games towards No. 15 Arkansas. Outside of these contests, a single recreation with No. 21 Auburn and a Big 12/SEC Challenge recreation with No. 2 Kansas represents Kentucky’s solely probability so as to add substance to its resume.

It’s arduous to see the Wildcats doing any higher than perhaps 2-4 or 3-3 towards Arkansas (two video games), Tennessee (two video games), Auburn and Kansas. Kentucky seems destined for the NCAA Tournament bubble, and I’ll take a swing on the Wildcats touchdown a spot in the First Four as different blue bloods equivalent to Indiana, Michigan State and UCLA have lately. — David Cobb

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