NEWS Dribble Handoff: Kentucky has struggled so far, how will the Wildcats finish the regular season?

Dribble Handoff: Kentucky has struggled so far, how will the Wildcats finish the regular season?

After starting the season at No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25, Kentucky failed to secure a single vote in this week’s ballot as the SEC game started 1-3 and drew at Alabama on Saturday. An embarrassing 78-52 loss, followed by a 71-68 loss to South Carolina on Tuesday, ended the Wildcats’ 28-game winning streak at Rupp Arena. Ranked 46th in the NET, the Wildcats are 0-4 in Quad 1 after a stunning return from 26-8 in National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe and other key players like Sahvir Wheeler and Jacob Toppin. Deeply disappointed team.

Following a shock first-round loss to No. 15 seed St. Peter’s University in last year’s NCAA Tournament, English fans were at an all-time high for coach John Calipari of 14 years. The show’s last win in the Big Dance came in 2019, and suddenly it seemed like no guarantee that 2023 would bring it.

But with two months until Sunday’s selection, Kentucky still has time to turn things around. Five-star freshmen Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston both showed encouraging flashes and should improve as the season progresses. Sharpshooters guard CJ Fredrick should also return from a finger injury at some point in the league.

The Wildcats’ range of results remains wide, with the saga of Calipari’s tenure reaching a critical moment to capture the sport’s collective attention in the coming weeks. For this week’s edition of Dribble Handoff, our writers are offering their predictions for the rest of the Kentucky season.

cats are bubble team but can dance big

  • forecast meeting minutes: 10-8
  • Predicted NCAA Tournament Seeds: No.9

Kentucky has been lackluster all season and doesn’t appear to be on the verge of turning things around. The Wildcats just got upset by 26 points at Alabama. They are 3-3 over their past six games, remain winless in Quadrant 1, and rank 45th in NET, 56th in and 1st in KPI 62 bits.

England look like a possible bubble team.

At this point, I doubt the Wildcats will live up to their preseason expectations of being ranked No. 1 on, finishing in the top five basically everywhere and tagged as the SEC favorite — but I still think they’ll land on the right side of the bubble and play in the NCAA Tournament. And then… who knows? A year ago, Great Britain had a great regular season followed by a terrible NCAA Tournament. This year could be the exact opposite — a disappointing regular season followed by a stellar NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats still have the reigning CBS Sports National Player of the Year (Oscar Tshiebwe) and a projected lottery pick (Cason Wallace). It’s not the most talented lineup John Calipari has assembled, but it’s still more talented than most coaches have. Now it’s just a matter of figuring things out, doing enough to get to 68, and seeing if things break down the right way when the single-elimination rounds begin. — Gary Parrish

UK season still bumpy but big wins to come

  • forecast meeting minutes: 11-7
  • Predicted NCAA Tournament Seeds: No.9

Even though Great Britain is 1-2 in the SEC — and I expect it to be 2-2 after Tuesday night’s home win over South Carolina — that conference will be too tough to reasonably expect the Wildcats to be better than the season between now and the season. Four consecutive victories in the playoffs. There are seven road tests, plus a Jan. 28 home game against No. 2 Kansas in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge Finals. Therefore, the losses stack up periodically. However, I expect Kentucky to make up its mind and strengthen its defense.

I expect it to pick up some key wins in Quad 1 and ensure it avoids frothy talk by the second week of March. This will end up like the team that played 8/9 in 2014. With five losses already and likely at least five more between now and Sunday’s tryout, it’s optimistic Kentucky will get a single-digit seed. I’d say it played poorly, though, due to its stellar performance in the SEC tournament. And: Kentucky will beat Kansas later this month. —Matt Noland

Wildcats hit their stride by February

  • forecast meeting minutes: 13-5
  • Predicted NCAA Tournament Seeds: number 6

There’s no question that Kentucky underperformed preseason expectations and, even after early struggles led to a hard reset, underperformed relaxed inseason expectations. Even if you have serious issues, a 10-5 start to the season is lackluster at Kentucky. Still, there are reasons for cautious optimism. It was one of the best three-point shooting teams Calipari has fielded in England, and Oscar Zibwe, despite his efforts, was the nail-biting offensive rebound and chance to create second chances.

A few small tweaks to player roles and a greater focus on doing what they do well — hitting 3s, providing opportunities for Carson Wallace to create, getting Tshiebwe into position — might be enough to turn things around . There are a few things around the fringe that need significant improvement — this team sucks free throws, and it’s always running into late hero shots in its offense — but I’ve seen enough positives to consider it Can become a No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament and re-emerge as a top-15 team by the end of the regular season. — Kyle Boone

UK top four, last team in Big Dance

  • forecast meeting minutes: 9-9
  • Predicted NCAA Tournament Seeds: No. 12 (top four)

Kentucky played an outdated offensive style characterized by methodical pace and limited field spacing. Without an elite defense capable of consistently creating transition opportunities, England would be stuck in a half-court attack, struggling to find a rhythm or build momentum. In a nutshell, Calipari doesn’t have the ability at this point in his career to pull the strings necessary to unlock the potential of this team.

The SEC’s bottom feeder will secure the Wildcats a fair amount of league wins. But Great Britain skipped a regular-season rematch against No. 4 Alabama, which is focusing on two games against No. 5 Tennessee and two games against No. 15 Arkansas. Outside of those games, a single against No. 21 Auburn and a Big 12/SEC challenger against No. 2 Kansas represent Kentucky’s only chances to add substance to its resume.

It’s hard to see the Wildcats going better than 2-4 or 3-3 against Arkansas (two games), Tennessee (two games), Auburn and Kansas. Kentucky looks destined to enter the NCAA tournament bubble, and I’d consider the Wildcats a top-four spot, as other blue-blooded teams like Indiana, Michigan and UCLA have done in recent years. —David Cobb

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