By Kentucky standards, the second-round NCAA Tournament departure was a disappointment. But can anyone else live up to those same standards?
John Calipari had a beef with the NCAA Tournament selection committee from the start.
Despite an RPI of 10, a typical run through the Southeastern Conference Tournament and the usual roster of NBA locks, the Wildcats entered the 2016 NCAA Tournament as a fourth seed.
That doesn’t compute – until you look at some of Kentucky’s bad losses. In all there were three losses to teams with RPIs of 90-plus, including a road blowout at Auburn, loser of 20 games. The frailty of the Wildcats was obvious early on in a loss to Ohio State, a team that was sub-par compared to recent Buckeyes teams.
In other words, the selection committee had the ammo it needed.
As much as Calipari fumed with the seeding, that wasn’t the true beef. The bigger obstacle for the Wildcats was placement in the East Regional with North Carolina, Xavier, West Virginia and Indiana – four teams with legitimate Final Four aspirations.
Kentucky couldn’t avoid the first landmine, much less navigate the road to Houston safely. Indiana took the Wildcats down 73-67 Saturday.
The narrative is simple.
Under Calipari, Kentucky underachieved again.
Again? Just a year ago, Kentucky was 38-0 and invincible, until facing Wisconsin in the Final Four. In 2009-2010, the Wildcats rolled into the Elite Eight 35-2 before they were bounced back to Lexington.
Yet those who watched Kentucky this year – watched them closely throughout conference play — aren’t so sure that the Wildcats came up short.
No, in fact, this may have been Calipari’s best coaching job to date. Like Nick Saban, he’s often an afterthought for Coach of the Year honors, yet picked up the accolade from SEC voters. That’s a rare nod of appreciation.
True, he had as many as three potential first-round picks: Jamal Murray, Skal Labissiere and Tyler Ulis.
Yet the SEC’s most talented player played at LSU, and Ben Simmons and the Tigers didn’t make it to the postseason.
As consistent as Murray was, especially from beyond the arc, Labissiere is evaluated on potential, not performance. Despite preseason hype, he remains a work in progress. Against Indiana, he scored four points – double his performance in SEC Tournament games against Georgia and Texas A&M – and remained an enigma who often seen lost in the rotation.
As a freshman, Ulis proved to be Kentucky’s most dependable player. He scored 30 in the SEC finals and was a one-man wrecking crew against the Hoosiers, finishing with 27 points.
But he’s still undersized, at 5-foot-9, and can be lost in matchups at times.
This wasn’t your typical Kentucky roster. It proved agile, but overwhelming. Top heavy, but not deep.
And, typically, it mixed an influx of new talent with a moderate amount of experience.
In the eyes of the world, Calipari and Kentucky fell short. Expectations are high, and they’ve only been raised since Calipari left Memphis.
In Calipari’s seven seasons in Lexington, Kentucky has failed to reach the Elite Eight twice. Twice. With a second-round loss to Indiana, Kentucky fails to reach the Final For for only the second time in six years.
By Kentucky standards, that’s underachieving.
It’s a bar no one else in college basketball, right now, can reach.
Editor’s note: Morning Ticker welcomes Doug Segrest as a new Featured Author. Segrest is a veteran sports writer who primarily covered college sports and professional baseball at The Nashville Banner and The Birmingham News, where he was named Tennessee and Alabama Sports Writer of the Year. He’s also the co-host of the highly rated “The Zone” talk show.