Kentucky had a lot to like before the season even started. Last season’s Nationals Player of the Year Oscar Tshebwe returned, as did several pieces from the previous season’s No. 2 seeded team.
And the season has been a big letdown for Kentucky. It hasn’t been as bad as North Carolina, which is likely to go No. 1 in the preseason, if not the NCAA tournament.
This season’s disappointment in the SEC Tournament continued on Friday night when the Wildcats were upset 80-73 by a shorthanded Vanderbilt team. On March 1, Vanderbilt won at Kentucky. That was no coincidence as the Commodore showed up on Friday night.
Vanderbilt came into the SEC tournament on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble and without 7-footer Liam Robbins, who is averaging 15 points per game. Robins would miss the rest of the season due to a foot injury.
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Which is why Friday night’s loss to Kentucky just got worse. Despite facing a Vanderbilt team without its biggest inside defender, Kentucky was terrible from the field. Kentucky took a quick 14–4 lead, but Vanderbilt controlled most of the game after that.
A win would put Vanderbilt into the NCAA tournament field, improving to 20–13. This is Friday’s 10th win in 11 matches. Vanderbilt could pull off massive buzz with two more wins in the SEC tournament to earn an auto bid, and that prospect isn’t as crazy as it seemed when the week started. Vanderbilt coach and former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse has done a great job during the season and could attract some attention from other programs if he were to switch jobs. After watching the Wildcats lose to Vanderbilt for the second time in two weeks, Kentucky fans could be bracing for a swap of coaches by the end of the game.
John Calipari has had a good run at Kentucky, though some will look at a national title and wonder how UK hasn’t won more. A first round loss to St. Peters as the No. 2 seed in last season’s tournament didn’t go down well with Wildcats fans, and this disappointing season isn’t going to help either.
Kentucky was entered into the tournament as the No. 6 seed and could fall down the seed line after their early exit in the SEC Tournament. The Wildcats is a brand name for Tshibwe, a prolific college player. They can be a popular pick for going deep brackets on that alone, regardless of seed. But nothing has happened this season that indicates Kentucky is ready to make a tournament run. Vanderbilt might be a better pick if the pair of wins over Kentucky over the past two weeks lead to a spot in the NCAA tournament.