The Kentucky Wildcats have been a staple of March Madness for quite a long time. No program in NCAA history has more NCAA Tournament appearances than them.
But in 2021, Kentucky will not be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky put together one of their worst seasons in program history in 2020-21, as they logged their fewest win total in nearly a century. Meanwhile, John Calipari failed to win double-digit games for the first time in his career.
Here’s a look back at Kentucky’s season and just how rare it has been for them to be this far outside the NCAA Tournament bubble.
When is the last time Kentucky missed the NCAA Tournament?
Kentucky last missed the NCAA Tournament in 2013. During the 2012-13 college basketball campaign, Kentucky posted a 21-12 record and 12-6 in the SEC that year. That put them in a three-way tie for second place in the SEC, but it wasn’t enough to get them to the NCAA Tournament.
Part of Kentucky’s demise was related to late-season struggles, as they went 5-5 in their last 10 games before March Madness. That included a 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. As a result, Kentucky wasn’t able to make it into the final bracket and instead accepted an invitation to the NIT, where they lost in the first round to Robert Morris University.
It’s rare for Kentucky to miss the NCAA Tournament. Since 1992, the team has qualified for the tournament 26 times in 29 chances. They have been to the NCAA Tournament a record 58 times, eight more than the second-place North Carolina Tar Heels.
Kentucky basketball record 2020-21
Kentucky’s record during the 2020-21 season was 9-16. Their nine wins are the team’s fewest since the 1926-27 season when the team posted a 3-13 record in the Southern Conference, and their 0.36 winning percentage is the lowest since that time as well.
The Wildcats started the season with a 1-6 record, losing six consecutive games after an opening-night victory over Morehead State. They could never quite get on track after that.
Timeline of Kentucky’s 2020-21 season
Kentucky started the season with a 1-6 record, and things weren’t going smoothly for the team. Amid their tough start, coach John Calipari criticized himself for putting together a “dumb” schedule
“Listen, we should’ve played games up front that we had a chance to win, four or five of them and then played four or five of the others,” Calipari said, per Forbes’ Adam Zagoria. “Not eight hard games and we’ve still got Texas left who’s like 10th in the country.”
From there, Calipari tried pulling numerous strings, but most either didn’t work or backfired. Early on, he suspended freshman Cam’Ron Fletcher for his outburst on the bench during a loss and criticized him for being immature. Fletcher would later return to the team, but Calipari drew scrutiny for his decision to suspend Fletcher, who immediately apologized for the outburst.
Calipari got ejected in Kentucky’s eighth game of the season against Mississippi State. While his ejection fired up his team to win that game and kickstart a three-game winning streak, the impact didn’t last long-term. Kentucky dropped three straight after their winning streak and that led Calipari to express his frustration.
“I’m at this point a little frustrated because I can’t believe we’re not better, one as a team, and individual players aren’t better,” Calipari said, per Nick Rousch of KentuckySportsRadio.com.
Beyond their inability to click, Kentucky dealt with key injuries to Terrence Clarke and Keion Brooks, who combined to play in just 22 games. Both were double-digit scorers, so their presence was missed on the offensive side of the ball. The team also had two COVID cancellations and postponements, so that put some bumps into their schedule.
The Wildcats officially were guaranteed to miss the NCAA Tournament when they were eliminated from the SEC Tournament in the first round. They lost to the No. 9 seed Mississippi State, but would’ve had to win the SEC Tournament to have any shot at making it into March Madness. Instead, they’ll look ahead to next season and aim to improve on their poor 9-16 record.