John Calipari has his young Kentucky squad rolling as January starts fading into February. Kentucky has won seven in a row, including impressive conference road wins against Auburn, Georgia, and Vanderbilt. In fact, on their seven-game winning streak, Kentucky has won by an average margin of 15 points.
Early this season, things appeared to be another question of what could have been for Kentucky. The Wildcats were struggling to win games they should easily win, and losing to teams they shouldn’t have. However, over the last month dating back to the impressive neutral court win vs North Carolina, Kentucky has looked like a legitimate title contender.
Early on, Kentucky looked surprisingly one-dimensional. Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson were carrying the Wildcats while the rest of the team struggled to find an identity. The Cats were a bottom tier defense and an offense struggling to find buckets in the half court. Tyler Herro looked to have completely lost confidence in his shot and looked scared to have the ball in his hands. Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley were struggling to take at the reins of the point guard position.
In a surprising mid-season twist, Quade Green announced he is transferring from Kentucky on December 12. He wound up with the Washington Huskies. Addition by subtraction took place. Hagans had his break out game against North Carolina on December 22. Green is obviously a great player that helped Kentucky tremendously, especially last season. The fact that Kentucky is 10-1 since he left speaks more towards a team chemistry issue than Green being a problem.
How Does Kentucky Stack Up?
After dismantling 22nd ranked Mississippi State and overpowering then ninth-ranked Kansas, questions arose whether Kentucky was for real. Blowing out Vanderbilt by 35 points on the road, the chatter has gotten louder. So how does Kentucky stack up to the title favorites? Here comes Kentucky.
Kentucky is currently ranked seventh in the country and boasts an impressive tournament resume. In fact, Joe Lunardi has Kentucky as a two-seed in the same bracket as Duke. Kentucky is number nine according to the KenPom rankings, ranking as the 17th most efficient offense and the 10th most efficient defense. Considering where Kentucky was at the start of December, that speaks volumes to their improvement.
According to ESPN’s RPI Index, Kentucky is 12th overall, largely due to their 32nd ranked strength of schedule. Still, Kentucky has some impressive wins to counteract their blowout loss early to Duke, as well as nail-biter losses to Seton Hall and Alabama.
According to the NCAA’s NET evaluation tool, which takes into account results, strength of schedule, location, net offensive, and defensive efficiencies, and scoring margin; Kentucky ranks seventh. After consulting the RPI, KenPom, and NET tools, the only teams other than Kentucky to rank in the top 12 in all NET tools are Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke, Virginia, Tennessee, Michigan St., North Carolina, and Michigan. That’s nine of the top 10 teams, with North Carolina being the only one on the outside looking in.
With all of that taken into account and the likelihood Kentucky is still just scratching the surface on their potential, Kentucky stacks up very well with the rest of the contenders. February 16th will present Kentucky’s next major test when top-ranked Tennessee visits Rupp Arena.