Regular season record: 12-6
Potential opening opponents: Alabama (W 55-48), and LSU (L 87-82, W 77-76 OT)
Chances of winning the tournament: 18.3%
At this point, I think we can safely say that the sports media just doesn't know exactly how to rate Kentucky. At least not in the offseason.
After the Wildcats' 2012 national championship, they were preseason No. 3. They ended up in the NIT. This year, they were preseason No. 1. They won't miss the tournament, but right now, they're looking at something around a 6-seed. They're not the only team the pollsters misjudged, certainly; Michigan State was No. 2 and is now around a 5-seed. But that preseason ranking, along with John Calipari's ill-advised "chasing perfection" quote from last May, really put a damper on the team once it became clear that perfection was unattainable.
If there's one thing the Wildcats do illustrate, it's that some amount of experience does matter. Freshman Anthony Davis may have led the title team from a couple years ago, but it still had old hands like Darius Miller and Doron Lamb to keep the ship steady. The main seven-man rotation this year consists of five freshmen and two sophomores. Julius Randle is certainly one of the best players in the country—he tore up the Gators and almost single handedly got UK back in the game on Saturday in the second half once they stopped double teaming him—but raw talent isn't enough. Playing well together consistently is a skill just like shooting and defending are, and Kentucky just doesn't have enough seasoning there.
The main question now is whether the team can regroup from its ugly last five games. The Wildcats are just 2-3 in those contests, and the wins aren't terribly inspiring. One was a one-point overtime win over LSU, and the other was a 55-48 win over Alabama a week ago. Also in there was last weekend's drubbing against Florida and the inexplicable loss to South Carolina. A team with this much talent has no business losing a game like that one.
Of course, the effects of variance go both ways. If Calipari can rally the guys with the extra time before the first tournament game, they can potentially morph into the team that beat Louisville. In that one, Randle didn't even play the whole game due to cramps. James Young, Andrew Harrison, and Aaron Harrison filled the void and guided the team to its best win of the season to date. UK showed toughness and resilience in that one that has been noticeably absent of late.
Unlike the other two contenders, Kentucky won't have the opportunity to ease into the tournament against teams it swept in the regular season. It lost to LSU once and needed overtime to beat the Bayou Bengals in the second game between the two, and it got a pretty underwhelming win against Alabama. Perhaps that's just the sort of thing UK needs in order to make sure it's focused right from the start.
After all, this team is still an embarrassment of riches talent-wise. As we all know, sometimes you just need one player to go off and dominate in March. There is no reason why Randle can't be that guy for the Cats. The general sense I'm getting is that no one really believes that UK will win the tournament, and there even seems to be a mild skepticism that it will even get out of its (weak) half of the bracket to the tourney final. "No one believed in us" can always be a good motivational tool, even if, like in Kentucky's case, the benefit of the doubt is something the team once had and then forcibly threw in the garbage.
If you believe in momentum, you might not even be sure that this team will win its first game. I wouldn't go that far. Kentucky has too much potential to be written off entirely. I don't know if seeing Big Blue take home yet another SEC Tournament title will silence all doubters, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Wildcats make a few of them take pause before this thing is done.