Tuesday, February 12, known as Super Tuesday on the worldwide leader, is the biggest day of the 2012-2013 season for Kentucky basketball.
After a trying out-of-conference slate and an up and down early SEC schedule, Coach Calipari looks to have righted the ship and gotten this young and inexperienced group to buy what he's selling. The Cats enter the week back in the top 25 for the first time since early December. After five consecutive conference wins, this is the first time they have deserved the credit.
As a reward for their resurgence, Kentucky will travel to the hostile confines of Gainesville to face the 7th ranked Florida Gators, a team that until a surprising road loss to Arkansas last week was literally crushing every opponent it played since the start of conference play. In a down year for the SEC, this Florida team is for real, boasting legitimate national title aspirations given its combination of talent, depth, experience and coaching.
So bottom line is, if this Kentucky team really is good enough to make a deep late-season run similar to those of Calipari's first three years in Lexington, then tonight could be the moment it begins. The task will not be easy.
Florida wins with a combination of excellent backcourt play, ferocious defense and, like all Billy Donovan teams, the ability to kill you from three-point land. The Cats should match up nicely on the interior, but how will its young, inexperienced guards react to the unceasing pressure and raucous homecourt crowds?
Here are some keys, according to the BBL:
-Ryan Harrow needs to play mistake-free basketball, make good decisions and occasionally knock down an open jumper. If Harrow gets down on himself and starts trying to do too much, Florida will be quick to capitalize. He will need to play with confidence and intelligence.
-Noel must continue his excellent defensive play while contributing at least as much offense as UF's Patric Young. One of the reasons UK has reeled off 7 of 8 games is the difficulty opponents are having getting good looks against Kentucky's defense. With Noel snuffing out everything around the hoop, opposing teams are forcing low percentage perimeter shots and getting a bit more careless with the basketball.
-Poythress and/or Goodwin have to contribute big offensive games. During UK's recent run, Kyle Wiltjer has been the focal point of the offense. But much as we love KW's game, Florida presents a more athletic, pressure-heavy challenge that will limit a lot of what Wiltjer can do. UK will need to counter with some intangible scoring punches, and the two players most likely to bring that are Poythress and Goodwin. If Goodwin can avoid a ballhog performance forcing 15+ bad looks and Poythress can avoid a disappearing act, then the two should be able to combine for 25 points or more. UK will need everyone of them.
The rest of the season starts tonight. Even with a loss, if Kentucky plays this one close and competitively, there is nothing to be ashamed of. But the Cats cannot afford to be blown out. It would send a really bad signal to the tournament committee and, worse, could jeopardize the fragile confidence and collective psyche of a young team for whom the light is just beginning to come on...go back