The Kentucky Wildcats showed the nation why they are the #1 ranked team in the country last night with a thorough dismantling of the Tennessee Volunteers by a score of 69-44 at Rupp Arena. Anthony "The Beast" Davis made yet another case to win the Wooden award for the best player in the nation by flirting yet again with a triple-double-18 points, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks, and three assists in just 30 minutes of play. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 16 points and 8 boards while Terrence Jones had another solid outing with 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and two steals. More important than the numbers, however, was how the Wildcats played-with passion and precision.
UK was as animated to start a game as I have seen them all year. It looked as John Calipari had lit a fuse under a rocket, and it provided an explosion to start the game that Tennessee could never recover from. Kentucky made its first 11 shots and ran out to a 20-5 lead which meant lights out for the Volunteers. Tennessee made a litte run thanks to five straight three pointers, but UK was never seriously challenged.
Lost in the hype of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones has been the development of Marquis Teague at the point guard position over the last several games. While I, and others, have been critical of Teague at times this year, it appears the freshman is rounding into the type of floor leader that Calipari is looking for. Against Tennessee, Teague had 9 points and was 5-of-6 from the free throw line while handing out 4 assists versus 2 turnovers. Against LSU on Saturday, he had 6 points, 4 assists, and just one turnover. This is exactly the kind stat line we need to be seeing from Teague, and it is what Calipari has been preaching all season, and it appears that Teague is getting the message. That's great for him and for the team.
Another subject being overlooked by some is the tremendous defensive effort this team plays every night out. In the last three games, UK has allowed 44, 50, and 44 points respectively. While this looks great, it truly is remarkable considering the fact that since the advent of the shot clock this is the first time UK has held three consecutive opponents to 50 or fewer points. UK is holding opponents to 36% shooting on the year (#2 in the nation) and just under 58 points per game (#10). Kentucky is averaging nearly 78 points a game, and is currently ranked #2 nationally in scoring margin.
So while its fun watching Anthony Davis swat shots away at record paces (and it is a lot of fun!) the Wildcats as a team are flat-out getting it done on the defensive end, and Davis' shot blocking ability is a huge piece of that. UK's defense is the reason they can go on the road and grind out wins over Tennessee (65-62) and Auburn (68-53) even when the offense isn't clicking on all cylinders.
These past three games have solidified my belief that Kentucky is the best team in the nation. Ohio State and Syracuse are close behind, but I think this team playing as it has the past three games won't get beat. When Terrence Jones looks like a man on a mission, when Davis is terrorizing opposing shooters and getting rebounds and put backs, when I see Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Darius Miller playing with passion, and when I see Teague playing as a point guard should-this team can't be beat. Period.
Because I'm such a rabid UK fan, I always try to temper my expectations so that I won't be disappointed come tournament time. I convinced myself we wouldn't win in 1996 even though we were clearly the best team, and in 1998 I just knew the wheels would fall off after UK outlasted Duke in the Regional Final. I've been tempering my expectaions on this team thus far as well, but I think its time to be realistic.
UK IS the number one team in the country. That's not a fan talking, that's just fact. It's a snapshot to be sure, and can change at any time, but right now they are the best team out there withough much argument. UK is a last second three-pointer away from joining Murray State in the undefeated column. Every other major team has been manhandled at one point or another or, at a minimum, has a bad loss on their resume-except Kentucky. Unlike last year's Final Four team, the Wildcats have proven they can win on the road and at neutral site games.
The toughest part of their SEC schedule is coming up. The Cats will face Vandy and Florida twice and a road trip to Mississippi State in the final month of the regular season. Vandy's Memorial Coliseum has been the site of many debacles for UK over the years and should be razed due to it's ridiculous layout and design, but that won't happen before next week. A Florida team that is playing really good basketball will invade Rupp Arena next Tuesday, and I look for the Gators to provide a stern test.
With that said, however, I see UK coming out of that stretch with at most two losses, and more likely one or none. A loss wouldn't hurt UK's NCAA seeding and could produce a much needed jolt right before tournament play starts. This Kentucky team has a will to win unlike any I've seen in recent years, I think that comes from having the heart of champions. I really like this team's chances to raise banner #8 over Cawood's Court at Rupp Arena!go back