So what happens now?
Six weeks remain until Selection Sunday. And the last unbeaten team – and new No. 1 – suffered its first loss of the season. Now that everyone's armor officially has a chink exposed, this is where everything gets interesting.
Were the Wildcats overrated?
The initial reaction to Kentucky's 68-62 loss Tuesday to South Carolina gives much of the credit to a scrappy Gamecocks team and especially their star guard, Devan Downey. Always one of the game's more underrated players (a combination of his 5-10 stature and playing for S.C.), there's no doubt he came up big when it mattered.
Mary Ann Chastain / AP
|Does one loss change your mind about Eric Bledsoe and Kentucky?
Still, this was a Wildcats team that was undefeated, but had a tendency to let foes hang around. Maybe it's the freshman factor or maybe it's their defensive intensity. Either way, it's now motivational ammo for coach John Calipari to use the rest of the season.
"This is what happens when you have young guys who think we're are going to win at the last minutes of the game," Calipari said.
Yet were they overrated or unworthy of being No. 1? No way. For lack of a better explanation, it was the Wildcats' turn atop the polls. I thought they'd be there a while longer, but hey, it happens.
Especially when you go on the road. As John Gasaway notes, losing on the road is fairly common in college hoops (take note, Kansas fans).
When a highly-ranked team like Kentucky loses to an unranked team like South Carolina, the word "stun" invariably crops up. As in: Gamecocks stun Cats, etc. Maybe we should instead be stunned that headline writers are so regularly stunned. In calendar 2010 teams playing on an opponent's home floor while ranked in the top five of the coaches' poll are just 13-6 in those road games, meaning there's nearly a one-in-three chance of being "stunned" by any given outcome. (And if top-five teams would just stop picking up easy road wins at Rutgers, we'd be stunned in an even higher proportion of instances.)
Is Kentucky still among the elite?
That's what the Big Blue Faithful are pondering. This is still their best chance at seeing a Final Four berth since 1998, and today's the day when the doubts seep in. From A Sea of Blue:
What happens now? Does UK go into a pout? Do they come back and thrash Vandy? Do they flap their arms and fly to the moon? I have no idea. But Calipari needs to lay off Jobu's rum.
What happens is Kentucky does its best to escape from a tough two-game stretch at home (Vandy and Ole Miss), probably loses two or three more SEC games and grabs at least a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. And that makes you elite.
There's been a handful of true title contenders this season, and most of them haven't changed. Kansas, Kentucky, Texas, Michigan State, Duke and Villanova have been there from the start. Syracuse worked its way in, while Purdue, West Virginia and K-State are trying to stay on the fringes.
Kentucky stays in the mix because of its overwhelming talent. We all know about John Wall, but DeMarcus Cousins is quickly becoming just as important. Sure, he still shoots a TON, but there's a reason. He's awfully good. Ask opposing coaches.
"Nobody has anyone to go up against him," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn told Jeff Goodman. "He's the best I've seen in 15 years in person."
That covers Kentucky. One loss shouldn't change your opinion about the Wildcats. And if it does, you're overreacting.
Who takes over atop the polls?
A host of 1-loss teams – Kansas, Syracuse, Villanova, BYU and Kentucky – are out there. If the Jayhawks, who spent the season's first eight weeks at No. 1, win at Kansas State on Saturday, they're the most likely team.
Then again, even Cousins knows that being No. 1 doesn't mean much right now. It's simply a way to
"I wanted to be undefeated, and No. 1 was all good, but No. 1 is not a championship," Cousins said. "And we're playing for a championship."
Who said freshmen were clueless?
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