The 2022-23 season has been an interesting one for John Calipari and Kentucky basketball.
A year after making the NCAA Tournament as a 2 seed following a 26-7 regular-season, the Wildcats are at risk of finishing this year with the second-fewest wins under Calipari’s tenure. The Wildcats have a 21-10 record entering SEC Tournament play, tied for second with the 2012-13 team for fewest wins.
That’s certainly not a record many would expect from a college basketball blue-blood, even in a “down” year. While Kentucky certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations, however, the Wildcats still have hope to finish their season on a strong note — starting with the SEC Tournament and, Kentucky fans hope, a run in the NCAA Tournament.
With that, The Sporting News looks at Kentucky’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats’ season-long metrics up to this point and how Calipari and Co. can further bolster their NCAA Tournament chances.
Kentucky and the SEC Tournament
Kentucky’s record in conference play was good enough to earn the Wildcats the 3 seed in the SEC Tournament, which comes with placement directly in the quarterfinals. Kentucky needs only to win three games to win the conference tournament championship, beginning Friday against a to-be-determined opponent.
The Wildcats last season were seeded third in the SEC Tournament, winning their quarterfinal matchup vs. 11-seed Vanderbilt before falling 69-62 in the semifinals to eventual tournament champion Tennessee.
Kentucky’s strength of victory
The Wildcats have six wins against Quad 1 opponents (tied for 14th nationally) and a perfect 6-0 record vs. Quad 2 opponents. The committee likely won’t penalize the Wildcats too much for their seven losses vs. Quad 1 opponents, either, which include four losses to likely 1-seeds Alabama (twice), Kansas and UCLA, not to mention potential 2- or 3-seed Gonzaga.
The Wildcats’ biggest victories this year doubtless came against Tennessee, which sits third in the NCAA’s NET rankings as of Wednesday. The Wildcats beat the Volunteers by multiple possessions in each of their meetings, including by double digits in the first.
Other notable victories include Yale, Auburn, Michigan, Texas A&M and Florida, among others.
Kentucky’s weak spots
The good news for Kentucky is that it doesn’t have many weak spots in its NCAA Tournament resume. But the Wildcats do have a few blemishes in SEC play — not dealbreakers, but enough to give pause, especially considering two of those defeats came in the month of February (at Georgia on Feb. 11 and at home vs. Vanderbilt on March 1).
The Wildcats’ worst loss this year was a 71-68 defeat at Rupp Arena to South Carolina on Jan. 10. The Gamecocks have only an 11-20 record this season, including 4-14 in SEC play, guaranteeing their exclusion from the NCAA Tournament and NIT, barring an incredible run in the SEC Tournament.
Kentucky’s NET, KenPom, RPI, SOS rankings
Kentucky’s record by quadrants
- Quad 1: 6-7
- Quad 2: 6-0
- Quad 3: 3-2
- Quad 4: 6-1
Will Kentucky make the NCAA Tournament?
Yes, Kentucky will make the NCAA Tournament — and with a potentially high seed line, as well, per Bill Bender’s latest tournament projections. The Wildcats can improve their seeding with a deep conference tournament run, though any notion they must win out to make March Madness is misguided.
At this point, it’s more a question of how high — not whether — Kentucky will make March Madness.