LEXINGTON — I want Kentucky to win the national championship in men’s basketball, and it’s likely that most of you reading this share that desire.
But I would also suggest that if we’re all honest with ourselves, the chances of seeing coach John Calipari’s bunch cutting down the nets in Dallas this April are about as good as winning the lottery.
The obvious difference in those scenarios is that the Wildcats control their destiny.
But that’s not all that comforting, despite UK’s No. 14 national ranking and record of 19-5 overall and 9-2 in the Southeastern Conference going into Saturday night’s battle with No. 3-rated Florida (22-2, 11-0).
Tip for that one is at 9 on ESPN, with the GameDay crew on hand.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disputing that Calipari’s team is capable. There have been small snippets of time this winter where Kentucky has looked like a potential title winner.
But, with just seven games left in the regular season, I see zero sign that Kentucky is a bunch capable of putting six solid games together in the NCAA Tournament.
I would argue that the Wildcats haven’t put two halves together, let alone six games. I would argue that this Kentucky team is more likely to be ousted from the NCAA Tournament the first weekend than the last.
Does anybody get a good vibe from these Wildcats, a vibe that suggests that when the tournament lights come on, they can push a button and start taking prisoners?
It’s a massive red flag that we’re this far along on the journey and the Wildcats appear incapable of consistently playing hard or, on a related note, getting back on defense to prevent easy transition baskets.
“We just didn’t have a whole group of guys playing together,” Calipari said Wednesday night after Kentucky slipped by host Auburn, 64-56.
As a brief aside, I was in Colorado this past week celebrating my brother’s 60th birthday and took time out to go to Boulder and see the Colorado men beat Washington, 91-65.
Maybe 10 minutes into that game, my sister Debbie remarked: “It seems odd to see a college team that plays hard ... like they really enjoy college basketball and aren’t thinking about an NBA paycheck.”
The operative words there are “play hard,” “enjoy” and, perhaps, “NBA,” though Colorado’s Buffaloes look to have two or three guys capable of playing in the league down the road.
Calipari has repeatedly said his Wildcats are good kids and mean well, which is nice, but something is missing. And it may just be a lack of maturity that’s logical from a freshman-dominated team like Kentucky.
Guys like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist don’t come along very often.
I believe it’s critical that the Wildcats get an NCAA seed no worse than No. 4. That would ensure that they won’t play the more dangerous teams until the regional round of 16.
To get a seed that high, a win Saturday over Florida’s Gators — a likely one seed, win or lose this one — may be crucial.
Barring a David over Goliath type of upset, Kentucky will probably lose at Florida March 8 — the last game of the regular season.
A win at Ole Miss Tuesday (7 p.m. on ESPN) also is no gimme.
If the Wildcats lose twice to Florida these next three weeks, then they probably have to win all the others, and reach at least the final of the SEC Tournament in Atlanta to get seeded as high as four.
If Kentucky doesn’t make a long run at tournament time, this offseason may be as dark as last year’s NIT fallout, just because the expectations for this team have been so over the top.
Florida coach Billy Donovan has not had Kentucky-like problems, of course, mostly because his Gators are both talented AND experienced.
The Gators have overcome both eligibility and injury issues, and have still managed to play at an astonishingly high level.
Florida has lost only at Wisconsin, 59-53, Nov. 12, and 65-64 at Connecticut Dec. 2.
The Gators have generally steamrolled most of their SEC opposition, as a good team should, because the conference is once again dreadful.
Senior swing man Casey Prather leads Florida in scoring at 15.3 points per game. The 6-foot-6 Prather is one of four Gators averaging double-digit points.
The most interesting matchup Saturday will be the impact of Florida center Patric Young, a 6-9, 240-pound senior, against Kentucky’s tall front line.
Young is averaging 10.5 points — fourth on the team — and 6.4 rebounds.
On Kentucky’s side, only 6-9, 250-pound freshman Julius Randle, can match up with Young’s physicality.
But Randle hasn’t consistently played with the kind of want-to effort lately that Young has.
We’ll see if that changes Saturday. It better.