Cal the Optimist

He may be the last holdout in America, but Kentucky head coach John Calipari said in the aftermath of Saturday's 84-65 loss to top-ranked Florida that he believes the Wildcats still have a good run left in them.

He may be the last holdout in America, but Kentucky head coach John Calipari said in the aftermath of Saturday's 84-65 loss to top-ranked Florida that he believes the Wildcats still have a good run left in them.

"We're not there yet," the UK boss said. "But let me just say this: my whole vision of this team is we're going to get it, and it will start this week when we're in our tournament. Let's start down there (in Atlanta).

"Let's do what we're doing 10 minutes in a game -- 12 minutes -- and do it for 40 minutes. Let's all commit to it. And if we do, the light goes on and we like it. Let's do this. It was fun coaching them when they were (making the run)."

It's great that Calipari feels that way, even though some may not buy the lines as genuine, but the important part is this: do the Cats believe it?

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The UK team that took the floor at the O Dome on Saturday did not look like a unit that believes the best has yet to come. Kentucky looked timid (best-case scenario) or resigned to defeat (worse) or ready to fold the tent on the season (worst) as the Gators built a 22-point lead in the first half.

But the reason why the Big Blue Nation hasn't completely checked out on hopes of a miracle March turnaround is the 30 minutes the Cats played against the Gators last month at Rupp Arena and the 15-0 run they mounted Saturday to get back in the game, if only for a few fleeting minutes.

Can that UK team show up in the tournament?

Sure. We saw it in 2011 when UK experienced a shaky regular season, but got things together behind the play of Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins. Those Cats wound up in Houston for the Final Four. An optimist may even point out that season, like the current one, appeared to be a year when there was no clear-cut favorite to cut down the nets. The title is up for grabs in 2014 in similar fashion.

But can UK win four times in a row against a quality opponent to reach the Final Four?

Unlikely. Kentucky does not have a four-game winning streak against RPI Top 100 teams all season. The closest the Cats came was Nov. 25 to Dec. 6 when a win over Baylor (36) would have added to a streak that included Cleveland State (94), Eastern Michigan (92) and Providence (53), not exactly tournament-type opponents.

The Cats still have a solid RPI, but have slipped to No. 24 in the Pomeroy efficiency rankings, traditionally a strong indicator of tournament success. UK is currently 28th in offensive efficiency and, perhaps more concerning, 41st in defensive efficiency.

By comparison, Florida is No. 3 overall and No. 9 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. One-time bubble team Tennessee has actually moved ahead of UK to No. 13 in the overall rankings, 16th on offense and 28th on defense.

Does anyone think the Vols have an NCAA tourney run in them?

Maybe we're all getting a little ahead of ourselves. (Yeah, yeah. Big Blue Nation getting ahead of itself. Imagine that.)

Perhaps the focus should just be on three good days in Atlanta for now. It's another chance to gel, another chance to improve seeding and build momentum toward what Calipari is hoping to orchestrate.

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports and recruiting for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for Scout since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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