ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi says he would leave defending national champion Kentucky out of the NCAA Tournament as things now stand.
“I think you have to leave them out until we see a sustained level of play without” injured freshman center Nerlens Noel, Lunardi said at halftime of the Rutgers-Villanova game on ESPNU.
He added: “The only data point we have right now is a 30-point loss…against Tennessee, a so-so team in the SEC. So when I look at Kentucky I’m saying, not that the first 24 games don’t matter, but they may not matter in the eyes of several committee members. They’re going to have to win an up game or two and avoid bad losses and show some sustained level of good play. Not great play because they weren’t a great team to begin with. We’re not talking about dropping a No. 1 seed, we’re talking a team that was maybe a 10 or an 11, so that’s why it’s such a tenuous spot for the ‘Cats. “
Tom Leach, the radio voice for Kentucky, said Sunday on ESPN Radio that Kentucky needed to go 4-2 in its final six games — including three straight home wins in their next three games plus a win at either Arkansas or Georgia — to go dancing.
Kentucky is 17-8 overall, 8-4 in the SEC with an RPI of 43.
Lunardi currently has Kentucky among his First Four Out, along with Temple, Indiana State and Maryland.
Virginia, Arizona State, Cal and Villanova are his Last Four In.
Lunardi said he “ultimately” expects seven Big East teams to make it in — Syracuse, Louisville, Marquette, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Pitt — with Villanova and St. John’s ultimately missing out.
Lunardi said Syracuse or Louisville could potentially move up to a No. 1 seed by winning the league and the tournament in New York. Syracuse is currently a No. 2 seed in the Midwest and Louisville is a 3 in the Midwest.
Lunardi currently has Indiana, Miami, Duke and Florida as his No. 1 seeds.