John Clay: Kentucky doesn't deserve NCAA bid

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 16, 2013 

To be blunt, Kentucky isn't tourney-worthy.

As we await the (bad) news to be delivered on Sunday night's selection show after Kentucky did a dead-man's float Friday night in Nashville, let's run some numbers:

■ This Kentucky basketball team has lost seven games by double digits, and just one (Florida) was to a team that currently has a home in the RPI's top 30.

■ This Kentucky basketball team scored 48 points in its Friday night loss to Vanderbilt, the fewest points scored by the Cats since Jan. 7, 2006, when Tubby Smith's team lost 73-46 at Kansas.

■ This Kentucky basketball team has shot less than 40 percent in each of its last three games.

■ Since 2005-06, Kentucky has played just four games in which it had six or fewer assists. Two happened this season — five at Arkansas and six Friday night against the Commodores.

■ This Kentucky basketball team does not create turnovers — outscored 30-2 off turnovers by Arkansas; 12-2 on Friday night vs. Vanderbilt.

■ In its last three games, this Kentucky basketball team has made 31 of 56 free throws for 55.4 percent.

■ Eight games this season this Kentucky basketball team has been outscored in each half.

OK, never mind the rotten bananas, the diehards say, this Kentucky did beat two pretty good teams in Missouri and Ole Miss and one good team in Florida.

The win at Ole Miss came with the now-injured Nerlens Noel not only in the lineup but swatting Rebels shots into the Tad Pad stands at a record pace.

The win over Missouri came in overtime with an adrenaline rush from ESPN's College GameDay. The win over Florida also came before an energized home crowd and with the Gators somehow finding a way not to score a point in the final seven minutes.

In fact, take this Kentucky basketball team out of its natural habitat and it cannot survive in the wild.

Not even another strong Big Blue turnout — "In case you didn't notice, that didn't exactly feel like a home game out there," cracked Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings of all the blue in the stands in Nashville — could replicate that loving Rupp Arena feeling for John Calipari's team.

Since Noel's injury at Florida, Kentucky has lost road games by 30 points at Tennessee, by 13 at Arkansas, by 10 at Georgia and by 16 on a "neutral floor" at Vanderbilt.

Friday night's fiasco would have been jaw-dropping had not our jaw dropped so many times before.

OK, say the diehards, but Kentucky finished second in the SEC, a BCS conference. It was the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament.

Actually, Kentucky finished in a three-way tie for second place, earning the No. 2 seed thanks to a better head-to-head record in an unbalanced schedule. Plus, the Cats lost Friday to the tournament's No. 10 seed. And no one confused this year's SEC basketball with Big Ten basketball.

Let's forget the numbers for a second and rely on what we see. "The eyeball test," as C.M. Newton used to call it, and probably still does.

Kentucky is not a good basketball team.

My sense is that most Kentucky fans aren't popping antacids today in anticipation of 6 p.m. They know enough about basketball to know the difference between good basketball and bad.

"I just hope we're the best of the bad," Calipari said on Friday night.

Maybe they will be judged as such. Cal's right. The selection committee grades on a curve. Teams that have bombed tests, even multiple tests, will still receive a ticket to the dance.

Maybe in a bad year for college basketball, the committee won't be able to find enough worthy teams to fill the bracket.

(I've been on that mock committee. Believe me, it's difficult to find 68 good basketball teams.)

If Kentucky hears its name called Sunday, however, it won't be because it earned it.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com Twitter: @johnclayiv Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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