John Clay: Computers, media see Kentucky differently

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 25, 2014 

With Kentucky basketball, the computers say one thing; the eyes say another.

The computers love the Cats.

Or two computers love the Cats, at least.

ESPN's BPI, the Basketball Power Index, places Kentucky as the fourth-best team in the country, behind Arizona, SEC leader Florida and Kansas, in that order. (Louisville checks in at No. 5, if you're interested.)

The RPI, data the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee studies leading up to Selection Sunday, puts the Cats at No. 10, saying that John Calipari's club has played the sixth-strongest schedule in all the land.

A couple of other computers are slightly less enthralled. Ken Pomeroy's tempo-driven analytics say UK is the nation's 17th-best team. Jeff Sagarin's data-driven numbers, published by USA Today, have Kentucky at No. 18.

Humans don't seem so sold on this young Kentucky team.

Despite a 14-point road win at Ole Miss and a home "revenge" win over LSU, the Cats inched up just one spot in Monday's Associated Press poll, from No. 18 to No. 17.

Kentucky receives a bit more love from the coaches, who have UK 15th in the USA Today poll.

But Gary Parrish of CBS Sports, who publishes a daily top 25, had Julius Randle and company at No. 20 heading into Tuesday night's play. Before Saturday's game with LSU, Luke Winn of SI.com had the Cats at No. 19, four spots behind a Louisville team that it beat in December.

The biggest skepticism might come from ESPN's father of bracketology, Joe Lunardi, who in his Monday map of matchups had Kentucky as a lowly No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region.

A No. 5 seed?

"Our numbers — today was funny; BPI had us a four and said we're the fourth No. 1 seed," Calipari said Monday on the weekly SEC coaches' teleconference. "I'm not sure we're quite there, but you got other teams that have the same record as us in other places being rated that high. So I'm not sure we're to that point, but we are getting better."

If Calipari is having a hard time selling that to those who don't go strictly by the numbers, surely one reason is the perception of SEC basketball.

It's a league in which Alabama lost at South Florida. Auburn lost to Northwestern State. Georgia lost to Temple. LSU lost at home to Rhode Island. Ole Miss lost at home to Mercer. Missouri lost to Illinois. Mississippi State lost at home to TCU. South Carolina lost at home to Manhattan and South Carolina-Upstate.

Texas A&M lost at home by 20 points to North Texas, which is 5-8 in C-USA.

Given all that, no matter his powers of persuasion, Calipari isn't about to convince anyone that 7-7 LSU would win the NBA Southwest Division if only commissioner Adam Silver would grant the Tigers access.

Early expectations must also hurt how the Cats are perceived. This was supposed to be the greatest freshman class ever assembled, remember. A 21-6 record hasn't fulfilled the fan base's high hopes.

Exposure hasn't worked in UK's favor either. Almost all the team's marquee games have ended in defeat.

The Champions Classic in November saw UK lose to Michigan State. Playing in the Dallas Cowboys' stadium, UK was beaten by Baylor. In the North Carolina game in Chapel Hill, the Cats fell to the up-and-down Heels. The College GameDay matchup with Florida in Rupp Arena saw the Cats fail to stop the Gators' late surge.

Kentucky has but two wins over RPI top-50 teams: a home win over now-No. 28 Louisville, the lone showcase game where the Cats came through, and a Feb. 1 win at No. 45 Missouri, which carried a 7-7 conference record into its game at Georgia on Tuesday night.

As we head into the regular season's home stretch, it will be interesting to see which judge had a clearer picture of Kentucky's worth: man or machine.

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

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