April 20, 2024

College basketball rankings: Kentucky, though confounding, is talented enough for deep NCAA Tournament run


There are a number of confusing teams in college basketball — none more so than Kentucky. Undeniably, the Wildcats are the most bewildering.

Saturday provided the latest example.

Final score: UK 117, Alabama 95.

Just three days after losing 75-74 at LSU, the Wildcats shot 63.1% from the field en route to a 22-point blowout of an Alabama team that entered with the sport’s highest-ranked offense plus sole possession of first place in the SEC standings. And it’s been like this all season for John Calipari’s program. One game, the Wildcats are losing at home to Wilmington, two games later they’re beating North Carolina on a neutral court. One Saturday, the Wildcats are dropping their third straight game inside Rupp Arena for the first time in school history, two Saturdays later they’re leading Alabama by 37 points — yes, Kentucky really led Alabama by 37 points with a little more than eight minutes reaming — and embarrassing the Crimson Tide in a way the Crimson Tide often embarrasses other teams.

Justin Edwards was the star in this one.

The five-star freshman who was ranked No. 3  in the Class of 2023, according to 247Sports, has struggled much of this season and is only averaging 8.9 points in 22 minutes per game. The 6-foot-8 wing is sixth on the team in scoring and seventh in minutes per contest. He’s slipped considerably in most mock drafts. But against Alabama, Edwards was fantastic. He took 10 shots, made all 10 of them and finished with 28 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in 29 minutes. It represented just the second time since Christmas that Edwards has spent at least 25 minutes on the court.

“It felt so good to go out and show I can play like I did,” Edwards said. “It means a lot because [my teammates] believe in me.”

Is it time to also start believing in the Wildcats?

Maybe.

They’ve always been college basketball’s most talented team with the most future NBA Draft picks on the roster — but they’re still just 6-7 in the first two quadrants with a Q3 loss to Wilmington also on the résumé. They’ve lost four times at home this season, twice to currently unranked teams. When they’re bad, they’re bad. And they’ve been bad, relative to most expectations, at least, for much of this season.

But Calipari has been through this before.

In 2014, he also had a super-talented roster, but mostly shaky team, that finished 12-6 in the SEC and got a No. 8 seed from the selection committee. Then the NCAA Tournament started, and Kentucky beat Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin to advance all the way to the national championship game. To be clear, I’m not necessarily predicting something similar. But what I am doing is insisting that the talent is in place to do something similar, and I’ll never completely rule it out pretty much regardless of what happens between now and Selection Sunday simply because of the talent that’s available.

Kentucky is No. 21 in Sunday morning’s updated CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings, where Purdue remains No. 1 for the fifth consecutive day. The Wildcats’ next game is Tuesday at Mississippi State.

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