Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Can Cats Become 2014 Final Four Contenders?

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIJanuary 29, 2014

BATON ROUGE, LA - JANUARY 28:  Julius Randle #30 of the Kentucky Wildcats is guarded by Jordan Mickey #25 of the LSU Tigers during a game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on January 28, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  LSU won the game 87-82.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats were the No. 1 team in college basketball to open the 2013-14 season, but they may fall out of the Top 25 when the next polls are released.

After an 87-82 loss to the LSU Tigers, the Cats are now 15-5 this year, and all five of those losses are away from the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. 

UK has just one true road win, a narrow 71-62 victory over the 10-8 Vanderbilt Commodores, and after a loss to LSU, the Cats face another road test Saturday against the 16-4 Missouri Tigers. 

If they lose that game, UK will be 15-6 with five losses to teams who are currently unranked. UK could also be unranked when the polls are updated the following Monday, since they'll have lost two games in one week to teams who will struggle just to make it to the NCAA Tournament in LSU and Missouri. 

That would be quite a fall from grace, but it would be the second time in two seasons that the Cats opened the year in the Top Five, only to eventually fall completely out of the Top 25.

They opened the 2012-13 season as the No. 3 team in the AP Poll, only to fall out of the Top 25 by the second week of December. 

To think this team could make it to the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas seems like wishful thinking at this point. With so much talent though, it's hard to say they aren't at least a contender to make it there.

According to DraftExpress, UK has three players ranked as Top-15 NBA draft prospects, and according to draft analyst Chad Ford of ESPN (Subscription Required), the Cats have four players among the Top-30 draft prospects.

Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and James Young are likely going to be drafted in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft if they declare, and Aaron and Andrew Harrison could also sneak into the latter part of the first round. 

This team has a ton of potential, and when they're clicking, they're nearly impossible to stop.

As of now, UK ranks 29th in the nation with 79.8 points per game.

Few, if any teams can match UK from a size standpoint. UK has two 7-footers (Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein) and another 10 players listed at 6'6" or taller, including starters Andrew and Aaron Harrison and James Young.

That's led the Cats to ranking fifth in the nation with 42.4 rebounds per game. They are also fifth in the nation with 6.8 blocks per game.

The point here is that there is a lot of talent on this roster, but sometimes it take time for that talent to showcase itself. 

The Cats have shown brief glimpses of being a Final Four contender with wins against the likes of the No. 12 Louisville Cardinals, as well as Providence and Boise State, two teams likely to make it to the NCAA Tournament. 

According to ESPN's RPI index (Subscription Required), UK has No. 6 strength of schedule and has played 11 teams inside the RPI Top 70, so these Cats are getting plenty of experience playing against quality teams, which only figures to help them improve as the season progresses. 

In the end, this is a team not ready to contend for a spot in the Final Four but may have the potential to become that kind of team.


Jason Marcum is a student in the B/R advanced sports media program. You can find more of his work at Stripe Hype and follow him on Twitter @UK_Fans