No Way Alabama Can Hand Kentucky 5th Straight Loss … (Thinking)

Matthew Jordan

Friday, February 16, 2018 4:06 PM UTC

Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 4:06 PM UTC

Preseason Top 10 Kentucky could find itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble should the Wildcats lose their once-unthinkable fifth straight game Saturday vs. Alabama.

Alabama Crimson Tide (14-10-1 ATS) at Kentucky Wildcats (10-16 ATS)Free NCAAB Pick: KentuckyBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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When CBS unveiled its 2017-18 NCAA basketball schedule and had Alabama at Kentucky on it this Saturday, I’m sure the network figured the Wildcats would be a Top-10 team and leading the SEC. Instead, the Cats enter on a shocking four-game losing streak and under .500 in the conference. They aren’t even the better team record-wise in this matchup against a football school.

It’s a 2 p.m. ET tip (televised by CBS) from Rupp Arena with the Crimson Tide in town. I think it’s fair to call this a must-win game for Coach John Calipari’s team. The SEC regular-season title is not a possibility any longer and now Coach Cal simply has to worry about his club getting an at-large NCAA tournament berth. Alabama would get one as thing stand.

This is the only scheduled meeting between the schools. Kentucky was 2-0 in the series last season, winning by nine in Tuscaloosa and by five in the SEC tournament semifinals. UK leads the all-time series 82-29 and hasn’t lost since Jan. 22, 2013, in Tuscaloosa. The Tide last won at Rupp Arena on Jan. 14, 2006.

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The losses are as tough on us as they are on you. We want to get off this skid as much as you. But the focus right now has got to be on getting these kids right and getting a W. That's why our leader is staying steady and positive. We need it.

➡️ https://t.co/aYy33ny6fz pic.twitter.com/B7WswIYMQu

— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 15, 2018
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Uncharted Territory For Coach Cal

I find it hard to believe the NCAA tournament selection committee would leave Kentucky out of the Big Dance because the school is such a marquee name and TV draw. But on the first four-game losing streak (0-4 ATS) of the Calipari Era and at 17-9 overall (10-16 ATS) and 6-7 in the SEC, there’s no question the Cats are trending toward the bubble. ESPN’s bracketology currently has them as a No. 9 seed in the tournament.

This is easily the worst team of the Calipari Era but also the youngest (nationally) so perhaps we should have all seen this coming. The only time under Calipari that Kentucky didn’t make the NCAA tournament was in 2013 when star Nerlens Noel went down because of a torn ACL in mid-February. That team lost in the first round of the NIT because it frankly didn’t care about being there. In Coach Cal’s entire career, he has coached eight teams that lost four games or fewer in a season. This one has lost four in the past 11 days. It’s the school’s first four-game skid since the final four regular-season games of the Billy Gillispie tenure.

On Wednesday, Kentucky lost 76-66 at No. 10 Auburn. The Tigers were at a huge size disadvantage in the game yet were only outrebounded by two. Kentucky’s issues from the 3-point arc (3-for-14) and free-throw line (13-for-20) continued. The Cats simply don’t have an alpha male this year. Freshman Kevin Knox is the most talented guy and had 19 points vs. Auburn but no other starter reached double figures – and Knox didn’t score in the final 13 minutes. The Auburn student section chanted "NIT, NIT, NIT," in the final minutes.

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ICYMI - If you missed last night's game, you missed out! But don't worry, we've got you covered! Watch all the high-flyin' excitement from the big win over LSU.#RollTide#BuckleUp pic.twitter.com/HPPhpZMrQK

— Alabama Men’s Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) February 14, 2018
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Alabama (17-9 SU, 8-5 SEC, 14-10-1 ATS) hasn’t made the Big Dance since 2012 but is projected as a No. 7 seed right now. Led by freshman star Collin Sexton, the Tide come off back-to-back blowout home wins over Tennessee and LSU and have six victories over RPI Top 50 teams: Rhode Island, Texas A&M, Auburn, Oklahoma, Florida and Tennessee. Alabama is 5-1 this year in games against teams that were ranked at the time. The problem is that the Tide also lose their focus at times; see losses to UCF, Texas, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Ole Miss.

If this game were in Tuscaloosa or a neutral site, Alabama would be the call. But the Tide have had some puzzling defeats in true road games. “Kentucky 5 Straight Losses” just doesn’t seem right. The KenPom predictor has this as a 72-68 UK win. Kentucky has covered four of the past five in the series, and while this isn’t a typical Kentucky team it will play with urgency. Take the Cats for a Saturday NCAAB pick.

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