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Time getting short for Kentucky to make its move into NCAA tournament

For most of the early part of the college basketball season there’s been a prevailing school of thought that Kentucky would eventually get it together and become a team to be feared in the NCAA tournament.

And it still might, but things are starting to get a little concerning for the Wildcats after Saturday’s 83-71 loss at home to a decent, but hardly outstanding, Texas A&M team.

Rebuilding would be understandable for any other school which lost six players to the NBA draft, including the first two players taken . But this is Kentucky. Logic and reason don’t apply.

For starters, the more realistic Wildcat fans think their team should be in the Sweet Sixteen every year and the Final Four every other year. This is not a patient fan base on a good day and with arch rival Louisville ascending to No. 1 in both polls, this is not a good day.

On top of that, John Calipari has been unapologetic that he’s willing to build his program around extremely talented freshman who will stay only for one season, a formula that he turned into a championship last year and was a big part of the reason Kentucky was ranked No. 3 and had first-place votes in both polls in the preseason.

But Kentucky still hasn’t come together. It’s currently at 10-5. All five losses are decent — Duke, Baylor, Notre Dame, Louisville and A&M — but the closest thing to a good win was the Wildcats’ season-opening nail-biter over Maryland.

The problem for Kentucky is that there’s not a ton of opportunities to get wins that the NCAA selection committee will notice in the Southeastern Conference. There are more teams ranked in the RPI’s top 100 in the Atlantic 10 (six) than the SEC (four)

Kentucky has three games remaining with teams ranked in the polls, two against Florida (RPI No. 10), and one with Missouri (RPI 23). The Wildcats’ schedule also includes a rematch with A&M (RPI 39) and a game against Ole Miss (RPI 47).

Jerry Palm, who does Bracketology for CBSSports.com, has Kentucky (RPI 66) not getting into the NCAA tournament in his most recent bracket prediction, which was released Friday before the A&M loss. If Kentucky doesn’t start beating top 50 teams, it could be a very anxious fan base when the SEC tournament arrives.

NO UPDATE ON MORGAN — University of Massachusetts junior guard Jesse Morgan is expected to see a doctor today to determine the severity of the sprain to his sprained right knee and the timetable for his return.

MY TOP 10 — With No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Michigan both falling over the weekend, the No. 1 spot in both polls was up for grabs. Louisville grabbed the top spot with 36 of the 65 votes in the Associated Press Top 25 and 18 of the 31 in the Coaches Poll.

I’m one of the 14 that stuck with Duke which landed at No. 3. Both the Blue Devils and Cardinals have one loss. Duke not only beat Louisville head to head, but has more impressive wins (Minnesota, VCU, Ohio State) on its overall resume compared to Louisville, whose best win came over an inconsistent Missouri team.

My top 10 is 1. Duke, 2. Louisville, 3. Indiana, 4. Kansas, 5. Michigan, 6. Syracuse, 7. Gonzaga, 8. Minnesota, 9. Butler, 10. Arizona

For the rest of my Top 25 visit the College Hoop Week Guide on Gazettenet’s UMass Sports Blog at http://www.gazettenet.com/Blogs/UMassSports/.

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 6 Syracuse at No. 1 Louisville, 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) — This is a better game if Orange forward James Southerland, who is currently ineligible until an academic matter gets resolved, is back in uniform. But it should be good even if he isn’t.

ATLANTIC 10 GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 8 Gonzaga at No. 13 Butler, 9 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) — Butler already beat Indiana and North Carolina so Gonzaga at home shouldn’t be intimidating, especially if Rotnei Clarke is back from the neck sprain he suffered Saturday.

“If they’re thinking about not letting him play Saturday, they’re going to have to take him to another county,” his father Conely Clarke told USA Today.

NEW NICKNAME PLEASE: Villanova — While there are far too many Bulldogs, Eagles, Tigers and Aggies, the worst of all weak nicknames remains the Wildcats, which lacks imagination. And if there’s no imagination on a college campus, something is wrong.

Villanova is one of nine schools from Arizona to New Hampshire that call themselves the Wildcats and all nine need to rethink this.

Villanova is just outside of Philadelphia and there’s too much history in Philly not to come up with a better nickname. The school was founded by Augustinian Monks and Monks would be a fun nickname, but what would the women’s teams be called?

After wracking my brain to come up with something clever connected to either the Continental Congress (the Franklins?), Declaration of Independence (The Independents? or the Hancocks?) or Liberty Bell (the Tollers?), I went in another direction:

The Villanova Stallions or the Villanova Boxers.

Philadelphia’s favorite sports figure is Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion. I don’t think making Sylvester Stallone’s face the logo would be good (or legal), especially after seeing him on the Golden Globes Sunday. But the Stallions would feature a horse logo (the foam mascot could be a horse with boxing gloves), while the Boxers would use the dog breed.

ON THE ROAD TO — Five Atlantic 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament.

Information from personal interviews, newspaper articles and sports information releases was used in this report.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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