-- It was always going to be a season of growing pains for Kentucky. The Wildcats came into the campaign as inexperienced as they've ever been under John Calipari -- as inexperienced as any team in the country. There was plenty of talent on the roster, but it wasn't the sure-fire, one-and-done lottery pick types that had become commonplace in Lexington.
Heading into November, we didn't really know how good Kentucky would be this season.
Two months later, we still don't.
Kentucky has faced three major-conference teams this season. The Wildcats lost to Kansas in Chicago back at the Champions Classic; they beat Virginia Tech at home two weekends ago; and they lost to UCLA in New Orleans over the weekend.
What makes it even more difficult is that the jury is still out on all three of those teams, so it's tough to gauge how those wins and losses stack up.
What is clear, though, is Kentucky has proven next-to-nothing so far this season. The Wildcats have the aforementioned win over Virginia Tech, plus a couple quality mid-major victories against Vermont and East Tennessee State. That's pretty much it. The loss to UCLA dropped them in the Power Rankings from 8 to 19, as it's impossible to put Kentucky's non-conference body of work up against most of the other teams in the rankings and say the Wildcats are better. They don't have a win over a fellow top-25 team, and a win over Louisville next weekend wouldn't accomplish that either.
One thing working against Kentucky -- and one thing that's unlikely to change from now until Selection Sunday -- is its lack of production on the road. Since the Wildcats lost to Kansas and UCLA, and are going to be underdogs when they travel to Morgantown to play West Virginia in late January, their best win away from home is going to be against Monmouth in New York City earlier this month.
Of course, Kentucky is going to improve as the season progresses. The Wildcats' top six scorers are freshmen, and they're still figuring things out at both ends of the floor. But they still lack consistent shooting from behind the arc, and they're missing dynamic guards who can get to the rim off the bounce or get their own shot whenever they want. There's no De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, or Harrison twins on the roster.
The sky isn't falling in Lexington. Kentucky is still one of the top two or three teams in the SEC -- but at this point, the Wildcats are not the conference favorite nor a top-10 team nationally.
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1. Arizona State Sun Devils
Last week: 1
When was the last time Arizona State had a legitimate chance to beat Arizona in Tucson? The Sun Devils will be underdogs next weekend against the Wildcats, but it won't be a blowout. It's also perhaps the biggest game of the Pac-12 season -- and it's not even 2018 yet.
2. Villanova Wildcats
Last week: 2
Villanova enters Big East play with just three of its 12 wins coming by single-digits, and zero games within eight points. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges might be the best duo in college basketball, combining to average 35.4 points on 56 percent shooting.
3. Michigan State Spartans
Last week: 3
The Spartans have been absolutely rolling through teams so far, with zero single-digit wins and back-to-back 40-plus-point wins in the past week. They have a couple more warm-up games against Cleveland State and Savannah State before 2018.
4. Duke Blue Devils
Last week: 4
It was against a depleted Evansville team, but Duke had by far its best defensive effort of the season last week. The Blue Devils held the Missouri Valley unit to about 0.6 points per possession. We'll get a better gauge on Duke's defensive improvement against Florida State.
?5. Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: 7
Billy Kennedy was down to seven players, including a former walk-on, for the Aggies' win over Buffalo due to suspensions and injuries. D.J. Hogg will miss the next two games, and Admon Gilder is out a few more weeks -- bad news for a team that has rarely had its full complement of players.
6. Xavier Musketeers
Last week: 9
Xavier's win at Northern Iowa on Friday won't go noticed by most people, but it's a sneaky-tough victory. Green Bay graduate transfer Kerem Kanter has given the Musketeers an added dimension lately, scoring at least nine points in five of his past six games.
7. TCU Horned Frogs
Last week: 10
Still unbeaten, things get difficult very quickly for Jamie Dixon's team in Big 12 play. The Horned Frogs host Trae Young and Oklahoma on Saturday, then travel to Baylor before coming home to play Kansas. Road games at Texas and Oklahoma follow.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels
Last week: 5
One of the more shocking losses of the season so far took place last week, when Wofford went into Chapel Hill and knocked off the Tar Heels. North Carolina bounced back to beat Ohio State, but this is clearly not the Tar Heels of the past couple of seasons.
9. Purdue Boilermakers
Last week: 11
The Boilermakers have all the ingredients to make a March run. Isaac Haas has helped replaced some of Caleb Swanigan's production, Carsen Edwards has added a different dimension to the backcourt and Matt Painter has one of the best perimeter-shooting teams in the country.
10. Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 12
It's all Trae Young all the time for the Sooners. Of all the stats from last week, which included a 26-point, 22-assist outing, the most eye-popping one isn't complicated: Young is leading the nation in scoring (28.7 per game) and assists (10.4 per game). That's outrageous.
11. Wichita State Shockers
Last week: 13
The Shockers still don't look right, beating Arkansas State by nine and then needing to hold off Florida Gulf Coast late in the game. But Markis McDuffie is coming back soon, and Gregg Marshall usually has his team getting better as the season progresses.
12. Kansas Jayhawks
Last week: 14
Bill Self should get some much-needed frontcourt help soon, with forward Silvio De Sousa graduating high school early and enrolling in Lawrence. De Sousa has a college-ready body and will make an immediate impact on the glass. He won't need to do much, but he instantly upgrades their depth.
13. West Virginia Mountaineers
Last week: 16
It's now 11 wins in a row for the Mountaineers since losing the season opener to Texas A&M. They're also expected to get Esa Ahmad back from suspension at some point soon. He'll provide a major boost when eligible, especially to their half-court offense.
14. Virginia Cavaliers
Last week: 17
Tony Bennett's team should be able to get some momentum in ACC play, as four of the Cavaliers' first five conference games are in Charlottesville. They still have only one loss, at West Virginia -- and they'll start having more chances for marquee wins in league play.
15. Arizona Wildcats
Last week: 18
The Wildcats are almost back, but let's wait until after the in-state rivalry game against Arizona State before moving them up too much. If they do take care of business against the Sun Devils at home, a tandem of wins against Texas A&M and Arizona State will hold up well.
16. Tennessee Volunteers
Last week: 19
While North Carolina's loss to Wofford was the headliner last Wednesday, fellow Southern Conference member Furman gave Tennessee all it could handle before the Vols pulled out a win. Tennessee then went on the road and beat Wake Forest by 19 points. Where do they stack up in the SEC?
17. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last week: 15
One of just three teams in the Top 25 to lose last week, Gonzaga fell in a close one at San Diego State. The Bulldogs are going to be a difficult team to figure out until the NCAA tournament. They're going to be fine in terms of a bid, but they've been a mixed bag against NCAA-caliber teams.
18. Kentucky Wildcats
Last week: 8
We said it was going to start getting real for Kentucky. The Wildcats passed their first test against Virginia Tech two weekends ago, but lost to UCLA over the weekend. In Kentucky's two losses this season, 3-point shooting has been one of the main culprits: they shot 9-for-34 from behind the arc against Kansas and UCLA.
19. Baylor Bears
Last week: 20
Baylor hasn't been tested since late November and early December, beating its past five opponents by an average of 26.8 points. That will change very soon, with the Bears' three in-state Big 12 rivals next on the schedule: at Texas Tech, home vs. TCU, home vs. Texas.
20. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last week: 21
Watching the Red Raiders, it's clear they're very good -- they just need to prove it consistently against high-quality opponents. So far, their best win is against Nevada and their lone loss is to Seton Hall. Keenan Evans will be a national name soon enough.
21. Arkansas Razorbacks
Last week: 22
So far, Arkansas' claim to fame has to be beating Oklahoma -- and holding Trae Young to his lowest assist output for the season. Young had 28 points and five assists, going 8-for-18 from the field. A surprisingly big SEC game takes place on Saturday, with Tennessee visiting Fayetteville.
22. Miami Hurricanes
Last week: 6
The Hurricanes take the biggest tumble of the week, after losing to New Mexico State at the Diamond Head Classic. It was their first loss of the season, but not we see just how nonexistent Miami's non-conference resume looks. They have a win over Minnesota -- and that's it.
23. Creighton Bluejays
Last week: 23
Creighton's position in the Big East pecking order can start being sorted in the next three games, as the Bluejays travel to Seton Hall, then return home to play Providence and St. John's. Freshman Mitch Ballock has been a pleasant surprise lately, hitting at least 13 points in three of his past four games.
24. Seton Hall Pirates
Last week: 24
The suspension of senior forward Ismael Sanogo went below the radar nationally, but he was an integral part of the Pirates' stifling defense -- and an extended absence would be felt. Until then, Michael Nzei will have to fill his shoes, or Kevin Willard can go small.
25. Clemson Tigers
Last week: NR
Florida State falls out despite beating Charleston Southern and Southern Miss -- it's just that Clemson has a better r?sum? right now. The Tigers have been a national surprise, owning wins over Florida, Ohio State and South Carolina, with just one loss to Temple. Brad Brownell could be saving his job.
Dropped out: Florida State