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Comparing NCAA bubble teams, UK’s résumé still stacks up

At this do-or-die time of the year, it seems like every game takes on a greater importance the closer and closer we get to Selection Sunday.

That’s why Kentucky’s 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament seems to have hurt the Wildcats so much. At such at a critical time of the year, it wasn’t the greatest timing to lose their second game to a team outside the RPI top 100.

“It was in our hands to take it out of everybody’s hands and we didn’t take care of business,” John Calipari said Friday.

As true as that statement is – UK was essentially a lock for the NCAA Tournament with a win over Vanderbilt – perhaps everyone overreacted just a bit in the immediate aftermath of the loss to the Commodores.

While the loss certainly hurt Kentucky’s national perception, did it really do all that much to damage its overall body of work? If the NCAA selection committee really does count every game of the season the same – and NCAA chairman Mike Bobinski said exactly that Saturday when he said games at this time of the year weigh equally with every other game during the season – UK appears to have a résumé that stacks up pretty favorably to rest of the so-called bubble teams.

Don’t believe that? I decided to compile the résumés of Joe Lunardi’s “last four in” and “first four out” categories in his latest NCAA Tournament projections just to see how Kentucky measured up to those other teams. UK’s RPI, strength of schedule and record vs. the RPI top 50 are all pretty competitive with the bubble teams vying for the final few at-large berths.

The one thing Kentucky has gotten criticized for this year is its lack of “good” wins, but if you evaluate UK’s quality wins (a victory against a top-50 RPI opponent) with the other eight schools below, UK has just as many quality wins as its competition and actually fewer costly losses (losses to teams rated outside the RPI’s top 100) than most of the pack.

Obviously the Cats are being judged without Nerlens Noel, but in the process of going 4-4 without their top big man, they picked up two of their biggest victories of the season (Florida and Missouri).

“When we play – where everybody plays as a team everybody does what they’re supposed to do – we can beat anybody,” freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. “We beat Florida. We beat Missouri. We beat Ole Miss. Missouri’s in it; they’re a lock. We beat them. Florida’s a lock. We beat them. And Ole Miss is on the bubble, so we showed we can beat anybody”

Comparing résumés isn’t where John Calipari’s team would have liked to have been when it started this season, but since when do preseason expectations dictate who the best 68 teams in the country are? When it comes down to it – loss to Vanderbilt and all – UK’s profile still stacks up (not to mention a 3-1 record vs. the eight teams below), and the Wildcats are still very much a factor heading into Selection Sunday.

NCAA Tournament “bubble” profiles

(note: Ole Miss and Southern Miss’ RPI and strength of schedule do not factor in their games on Saturday since those numbers have not been updated; all information was compiled from ESPN’s RPI standings as of 6 p.m. on Saturday; while the RPI does not determine who gets in the NCAA Tournament, the NCAA selection committee uses the rankings as a measuring stick when selecting the field; Ole Miss is the only bubble team still playing and can win an automatic berth with a victory over Florida in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game on Sunday)

Kentucky Wildcats
Record: 21-11
RPI: 56
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-4
Record vs. RPI top 100: 7-9
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 12-0
Strength of schedule: 73
Quality wins: Florida, Missouri, at Ole Miss
Costly losses: at Georgia, Vanderbilt
Record away from home: 5-9
KenPom.com ranking: 44
Sagarin rating: 36

Lunardi’s “Last Four In”

Boise State Broncos
Record: 21-10 (19-10 vs. Division I)
RPI: 44
Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-7
Record vs. RPI top 100: 8-8
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 7-2
Strength of schedule: 44
Quality wins: at Creighton, UNLV, Colorado State, San Diego State
Costly losses: at Utah, at Nevada
Record away from home: 7-9
KenPom.com ranking: 49
Sagarin rating: 59

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
Record: 28-5
RPI: 29
Record vs. RPI top 50: 1-3
Record vs. RPI top 100: 2-3
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 21-1
Strength of schedule: 134
Quality wins: Ole Miss
Costly losses: Florida International
Record away from home: 13-5
KenPom.com ranking: 31
Sagarin rating: 53

Ole Miss Rebels
Record: 25-8
RPI: 50
Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-3
Record vs. RPI top 100: 8-6
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 13-2
Strength of schedule: 143
Quality wins: Missouri, Missouri (neutral)
Costly losses: at South Carolina, at Mississippi State
Record away from home: 9-7
KenPom.com ranking: 43
Sagarin rating: 40

La Salle Explorers
Record: 21-9
RPI: 40
Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-4
Record vs. RPI top 100: 5-8
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 9-1
Strength of schedule: 79
Quality wins: Butler, at VCU
Costly losses: Central Connecticut State
Record away from home: 10-7
KenPom.com ranking: 56
Sagarin rating: 58

Lunardi’s “First Four Out”

Virginia Cavaliers
Record: 21-11
RPI: 74
Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-3
Record vs. RPI top 100: 8-4
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 11-4
Strength of schedule: 127
Quality wins: at Wisconsin, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke
Costly losses: Delaware, at Georgia Tech, at Boston College, at George Mason, Old Dominion, at Wake Forest, at Clemson
Record away from home: 3-10
KenPom.com ranking: 28
Sagarin rating: 38

Maryland Terrapins
Record: 22-11
RPI: 62
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-4
Record vs. RPI top 100: 4-9
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 17-0
Strength of schedule: 111
Quality wins: North Carolina State, Duke, Duke (neutral)
Costly losses: at Boston College, at Georgia Tech
Record away from home: 6-8
KenPom.com ranking: 55
Sagarin rating: 48

Tennessee Volunteers
Record: 20-12
RPI: 57
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-5
Record vs. RPI top 100: 9-10
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 8-0
Strength of schedule: 47
Quality wins: Wichita State, Florida, Missouri
Costly losses: Georgia, at Georgia
Record away from home: 7-9
KenPom.com ranking: 67
Sagarin rating: 51

Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Record: 25-9 (23-8 vs. Division I)
RPI: 32
Record vs. RPI top 50: 0-5
Record vs. RPI top 100: 4-8
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 11-1
Strength of schedule: 86
Quality wins: None
Costly losses: at Marshall
Record away from home: 13-8
KenPom.com ranking: 53
Sagarin rating: 56