Rothstein Files: It’s hard to buy long-term stock in Kentucky right now

UCLA rothstein

1. Virginia was mighty impressive in its loss at Villanova on Sunday

There are no such thing as moral victories in sports, but the Cavaliers proved last week that they’re again going to be a nuisance to play against in the NCAA Tournament.

Despite a raucous comeback by the national champions which led to a dramatic two-point victory, Tony Bennett’s program again showed the patience, synergy, and defensive prowess that has allowed it to be labeled as no worse than a two seed in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments.

Virginia played two true road games last week and beat Notre Dame by 17 in South Bend in addition to nearly picking off Villanova in South Philadelphia on a day when the Wildcats shot 24 free throws compared to the Cavaliers’ three.

Another thing to remember?

Virginia held Notre Dame and Villanova — two of the best offensive teams in the country — to an average of 57.5 points in two games that were played on the opponent’s home court.

A word to the wise: Keep a close eye on what’s going on in Charlottesville over the next five weeks.

Virginia is currently 16-4 overall and 6-2 in ACC play.

2. It’s hard to buy stock in Kentucky long term right now

The facts are the facts: The only truly elite team that the Wildcats have beaten this season was North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic and Kentucky needed 47 points from Malik Monk to beat the Tar Heels by three.

John Calipari’s squad was out-toughed in Saturday’s loss against Kansas at Rupp Arena and is the midst of a two-game losing streak because it isn’t exuding some of the attributes that have made Calipari’s teams successful in the past.

Kentucky gave up an average of 81.5 points in a pair of losses last week to both Kansas and Tennessee all while giving up an average of 77.3 points over its last six games.

Calipari has always been a defensive-minded coach and his truly great teams at both Memphis and Kentucky reached a high level because of the way they got into opponents defensively. That isn’t happening with this team.

Until the Wildcats start stopping people, they can’t be taken seriously as a legitimate contender to go deep in the NCAA Tournament.

3. The time is now for Baylor

These are the types of weeks you dream about if you truly want to have a season to remember.

The Bears are 20-1 after 21 games and currently have a resume that is putting them in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

No team in college basketball has as many quality wins as Baylor, but over the next few days those victories are put on the back burner because of a bigger task at hand.

Scott Drew’s squad is currently tied with Kansas for first place in the Big 12 and the Bears will get their first of at least two cracks against the Jayhawks on Wednesday night at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Bill Self has led Kansas to 12 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles and has only suffered nine home losses during his head coaching career in Lawrence, but this Baylor team possesses the type of size up front that could really give the Jayhawks issues on the glass given its current makeup. With Carlton Bragg suspended indefinitely, Kansas doesn’t have the depth on the baseline to trade blows with Johnathan Motley, Jo Lual-Acuil, or Terry Maston.

The Jayhawks boast arguably college basketball’s best back court in Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, but it will be interesting to see how Kansas rebounds the ball against Baylor.

Drew has done masterful work this season and has already led the Bears to a pair of Elite Eight appearances in 2010 and 2012, but putting his program in position to end Kansas’ streak of dominance in the Big 12 would add a completely different chapter to his coaching legacy.

Baylor has fate in its own hands. We’ll see over the next few days what it chooses to do with it.

This and That:

– How dominant has Gonzaga been recently? The Bulldogs haven’t trailed an opponent in over five games. Mark Few’s squad is currently 22-0 and will next travel to BYU on Thursday night in Provo. Gonzaga is currently tied for the longest winning streak in program history, previously set during the 2014-15 season.

– Kansas freshman Josh Jackson is 8-14 from 3-point range in his last three games and that’s bad news for the Jayhawks’ future opponents. If Jackson develops a consistent outside shot, he’s going to be near impossible to guard. The talented forward went for 20 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s win at Kentucky.

– One storyline that’s sure to pick up steam over the next month? Arizona has a real chance to the No. 1 seed in the West Region in a year in which the Final Four is in Glendale.

– One of the reasons for Georgia Tech’s surprising season has been the jump made by junior big man Ben Lammers. The 6-10 post player is averaging 14.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks. He averaged just 3.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks last season as a sophomore in approximately 20 minutes less per game.

– No player in college basketball is as comfortable in his own skin as Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. In a day and age where big men want to step outside and showcase their ability to extend the defense, Happ stays in the paint and is happy to do it. The 6-10 post player has yet to attempt a single 3-point shot during his college career and is currently shooting better than 60 percent from the field.

– Jim Larranaga improved his overall record as Miami head coach to 5-4 against North Carolina following Saturday’s win in Coral Gables. That mark alone speaks volumes to the extent that Larranaga has made the Hurricanes’ program relevant in the ACC. Miami is 14-6 overall and 4-4 in conference play heading into its next game against Florida State.

– VCU has embraced being a power team. The Rams have out rebounded their last two opponents — Dayton and La Salle — by 30 over the last two games. Will Wade’s squad is 16-5 overall and 6-2 in Atlantic 10 play. VCU will host crosstown rival Richmond on Wednesday at the Siegel Center. Tip off is at 7 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.

– Colorado is significantly better than its 2-7 record in Pac-12 play. Four of the Buffaloes’ league losses have come by a combined eight points and this team also owns victories over both Xavier and Oregon. Don’t be shocked to see Tad Boyle’s squad pick some people off in February.

– Another reason why the ACC is the best conference in the history of college basketball from top to bottom? The last-place team in this league is Pitt and the Panthers have beaten Virginia, won on the road at Big Ten leader Maryland, and also earned a victory on a neutral court against Marquette. That’s one heck of a last-place team.

– USC’s Andy Enfield told FanRag Sports that he’s hopeful that Bennie Boatwright can play this week when the Trojans travel to Washington and Washington State. “He still hasn’t went through a full-contact practice yet, but we’re obviously hopeful,” Enfield said of the 6-10 forward, who’s missed the last 18 games due to a knee injury. Boatwright was averaging 10.8 points and 4.0 rebounds before getting hurt. The Trojans are 18-4 overall and 5-4 in Pac-12 play.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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