Kentucky's season gets worse, as Wildcats get ousted by Vanderbilt in SEC tournament

Kentucky had a lot to like before the season started. Last season's national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe returned, as did many pieces from a team that was a No. 2 seed last season.

And the season has been a big letdown for Kentucky. It hasn't been as bad as North Carolina, which is likely to go from No. 1 in the preseason to not in the NCAA tournament, but close.

The disappointment of this season continued Friday night at the SEC tournament when the Wildcats were upset 80-73 by a shorthanded Vanderbilt team. Vanderbilt won at Kentucky on March 1. The Commodores showed on Friday night that wasn't a fluke.

Vanderbilt came into the SEC tournament on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble and without 7-footer Liam Robbins, who is averaging 15 points per game. Robbins will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury.

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That's what made Friday night's loss even worse for Kentucky. Kentucky was terrible from the field despite facing a Vanderbilt team without its biggest interior defender. Kentucky took a quick 14-4 lead, but Vanderbilt controlled most of the game after that.

The win could put Vanderbilt, which improved to 20-13, into the NCAA tournament field. Friday's win was their 10th in 11 games. Vanderbilt could make the at-large talk go away with two more wins in the SEC tournament to get the auto bid, and that possibility isn't as crazy as it seemed when the week started. Vanderbilt coach and former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse has done a fantastic job during the season and could get some attention from other programs if he wants to change jobs. Kentucky fans might have been willing to trade coaches by the end of the game, after watching the Wildcats lose to Vanderbilt for the second time in two weeks.

John Calipari has had a good run at Kentucky, though some will look at one national title and wonder how UK hasn't won more. A first-round loss to St. Peter's as a No. 2 seed in last season's tournament didn't sit well with Wildcats fans, and this disappointing season isn't going to help either.

Kentucky came in projected as a No. 6 seed in the tournament and they could fall a seed line after a quick exit in the SEC tournament. The Wildcats are a brand name with Tshiebwe, a fantastic college player. They might be a popular pick to go deep brackets on that alone, regardless of seed. But nothing that has happened this season indicates Kentucky is ready to make a tournament run. Maybe Vanderbilt is a better pick, if its pair of wins over Kentucky the past two weeks leads to a spot in the NCAA tournament.

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