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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Kentucky tumbles closer to going from national champs to missing the NCAA tournament

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Kentucky lost at Georgia on Thursday night (Getty Images)

Twice in the past five seasons, college basketball's defending national champ has missed the NCAA tournament.

Kentucky continues to edge closer to joining 2008 Florida and 2010 North Carolina in ignominy.

A 72-62 loss at Georgia on Thursday night almost certainly leaves the Wildcats outside the field of 68 with only a home game on Saturday against Florida remaining before the SEC tournament. The setback in Athens was Kentucky's fifth loss in nine SEC road games and its first to a team outside the RPI top 100 this season.

At 20-10 overall and 11-6 in the beleaguered SEC, Kentucky simply has too many losses to make up for a profile short on quality wins. The Wildcats' lone victories of note are an overtime win against NCAA tournament-bound Missouri and a road win at fellow bubble team Ole Miss.

[Related: New-look Tar Heels look like a tourney threat]

As a result, Kentucky finds itself in an unexpectedly dire situation for a team that began the season in the top five in the preseason polls after welcoming another decorated recruiting class. Unless the Wildcats upset Florida on Saturday, it might take an SEC title game appearance or even a tournament championship for them to avoid having to make a decision whether or not to accept an NIT invitation.

It would be easier to envision Kentucky beating the Gators or making a run next week if Nerlens Noel hadn't suffered a season-ending knee injury last month. The Wildcats have missed his presence in the paint and on the glass, contributing to four losses in the seven games he has missed.

Kentucky's interior defense was less a problem against Georgia, however, than its erratic shooting.

Alex Poythress vanished as he has been prone to do this season, finishing with four points on three shots in 19 foul-plagued minutes. Supposed sharp shooters Julius Mays and Kyle Wiltjer sank a combined 2 of 13 from behind the arc. And while Archie Goodwin scored 20 points before fouling out late in the second half, much of his production came after the outcome had been decided.

[Related: Michael Snaer hits another game-winner]

In his postgame chat with reporters in Athens, Kentucky coach John Calipari admirably tried to deflect blame from his players, insisting he had done a "crap job" preparing the team.

"I am so disappointed in the job I've done," Calipari said. "I've never had a team not cohesive at this time of year. Every one of my teams was cohesive. Every one of them had a will to win more than how they were playing. Every one of them had a fight. Well, if this team doesn't have that, that's on me. What in the heck did I do?"

Whatever has gone wrong, it shows there can be a downside to recruiting a new crop of one-and-dones every year.

If Calipari can mix a couple of savvy veterans with supremely talented freshmen who are willing to sacrifice for the team, then the results can be exceptional. If the Wildcats don't have that veteran presence and reel in a class that's not quite so extraordinarily talented, then the lack of experience or maturity can be crippling.

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