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UK Is OK But Not (Yet) Great

Kentucky continues to play down to the level of opponents

Kentucky's young players may not fully understand what it means to be the hunted.
Kentucky's young players may not fully understand what it means to be the hunted.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night, LSU came very close to upsetting Kentucky, losing just 71-69.

This comes after several other close shaves or less than adequate performances. Look down the line:

  • Kentucky 63 Texas 51
  • Kentucky  56 Columbia 46
  • Kentucky 84 UNC 70
  • Kentucky 58 Louisville 50
  • Kentucky 89 Mississippi 86 (OT)
  • Kentucky 70 Texas A&M 64 (2 OT)
  • Kentucky 65 Vanderbilt 57
  • Kentucky 69 Georgia 58
  • Kentucky 68 Florida 61

The first thing that should be said is that Kentucky is of course 24-0 and undefeated.

The question about the Wildcats is not and never has been talent. The question is more simple: does this team have the heart of a champion?

We've been frankly skeptical of that for most of the season, and we haven't seen anything lately to change our mind.

Think about UNLV in 1991. That team was undefeated into the Final Four, when Duke memorably upset them. But it could've happened at other points.

In the second round, Georgetown gave Vegas a very stiff game. Utah lost 83-66 in the third round and Seton Hall played the supposedly invincible Rebels to within 12 points.

Duke took UNLV down, 79-77, but Kansas might have as well, and we're pretty sure UNC would have had the Tar Heels advanced. That team just didn't have it like the 1990 team did.

Remember when we all thought that the SEC would be the easy part of the season for Kentucky?

Here's the deal, and why we remain skeptical.

By the time we get to March, there will be a number of teams who are playing championship-worthy basketball. Off the top, we'd say Virginia, Wisconsin, Duke, Arizona, Louisville, Gonzaga and Iowa State, and others will emerge. Maybe Oklahoma and Ohio State. Who knows? Those teams are toughening up right now.

We could see a school like Notre Dame doing it if only because we could see a three point team getting hot while Kentucky tightened up. Northern Iowa took out Kansas one year exactly that way.

Kentucky's talent, particularly in the frontcourt, is hard to argue with, but too many teams - and mediocre teams - have pushed the Wildcats.

It's certainly not going to get easier later. Teams that try to turn it on eventually find that they can't.

Kentucky is winning now because it is the more talented team. That's almost never enough.