Maybe this is just who Kentucky is this season.
The Wildcats lost their third game in the last two weeks on Saturday, falling in the final minutes to Florida, 66-64.
We keep waiting for Kentucky to take the next step, to become the team that its No. 2-ranked recruiting class indicated last spring and summer. But the Wildcats are definitely not that right now, and it's unlikely they're going to become that in the next six weeks before the NCAA tournament. They lack consistent playmakers at the point of attack; they go through long droughts from the perimeter; and they still have defensive issues.
They also have really struggled at the end of games recently, even if they were able to pull out wins over Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. Part of that is the lack of a go-to guy or a true leader, but it finally caught up to them against Florida. The Gators are as experienced and battle-tested as anyone nationally, Chris Chiozza is the ultimate closer and Kentucky simply couldn't come up with enough big plays to close out the home win. Once Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a 3-pointer with 5:35 left to put the Wildcats up three, Florida responded with an 11-2 run to effectively put the game out of reach. During that Florida run, here was Kentucky's offense: five missed 3-pointers, one turnover, one missed layup and one made P.J. Washington layup. One of those 3-point attempts hit the side of the backboard.
If there was ever a stretch that epitomized Kentucky's youth and general struggles this season, that was it.
Whenever Kentucky wins, though, it seems as if the Wildcats are inching closer to becoming the SEC favorite or a team that can play at the Final Four in San Antonio in April. We all want to think the talent on that roster will put it together and become a force. But we can probably put that to rest.
Kentucky isn't consistent enough to win a national championship. The Wildcats lack leadership and experience. But they're absolutely talented enough to win a couple of games in March and get out of the first weekend. And maybe that's all they are this season.
The roster was flawed from the start. It didn't have the typical John Calipari point guard, but it had a slew of combo forwards and Hamidou Diallo. There weren't any knockdown perimeter shooters, any explosive point guards, any consistent low-post threats. None of that has changed.
Our expectations should have been adjusted earlier than mid-January.
The return to health of Jarred Vanderbilt should help, as he immediately gives Kentucky another interchangeable part. Quade Green will work himself back into the mix after missing three games and playing 17 minutes against Florida. Kevin Knox and Diallo will show flashes of becoming a go-to guy, while Washington is the most likely candidate to become a leader. Gilgeous-Alexander might cement himself as the best NBA draft prospect on the team.
But even if all that happens, Kentucky's ceiling this season is more a top-15 team than a national title contender.
And that's OK, even though there are going to be plenty of people in Lexington who disagree.