Kentucky’s nonconference slate is finally complete and the Southeastern Conference opener awaits this Saturday when the Cats host the South Carolina Gamecocks in the league opener for both teams. The Wildcats now stand at 14-1 overall with significant wins over Kansas, North Carolina, and Louisville while a loss to the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington on a three at the buzzer is their only blemish on the year.
But now is when the real work begins, and as last year’s team found out, conference play is a whole different animal. Kentucky went 10-6 in league play last year on a team that ultimately advanced to the Final Four, and conference games, especially road games, can prove to be tough on a team heavily loaded with seniors.
With that said, the SEC should be Kentucky’s to lose, and most experts not only pick the Wildcats to claim the regular season title (which in my view is far more important) but also the tournament championship. If UK can post a 14-2 record and win a couple of games in the tournament, they should be a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
I predicted a 14-2 SEC record earlier, but I see more than a couple potential losses on the horizon, especially of Marquis Teague and Terrence Jones continue their up and down seasons. There is only so far Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can carry a team.
Two teams have emerged that could push the Cats for the SEC title if things fell their way. Florida is playing really good basketball under Billy Donavan and Patric Young has developed into a difference maker for the Gators. Florida is now 12-3 with losses to top-ranked Syracuse by 4, third ranked Ohio State by 7, and a double overtime loss at Rutgers, so Donovan’s team is tested and will prove to be a worthy opponent.
Mississippi State is the perhaps the other team that can push the Cats, especially in the new one division format that was adopted this year. State lost by 2 to top-ten Baylor on a neutral floor and has an inexplicable loss to Akron but has beaten Texas A & M and Arizona, both ranked teams. The Bulldogs are led by junior Arnett Moultrie who averages 17 points and 11 rebounds per game. Coach Rick Stansbury, a native of Louisville, has done a tremendous job in his 12 years at State, and his team looks to make noise again this year.
Vanderbilt is one other team that bears watching, but the Commodores have become something of an enigma. Picked to challenge UK for the title in the preseason, Vandy certainly has a lot of talent. Losses to Louisville and Xavier are understandable, but losses to Indiana State and Cleveland State leave one scratching the head.
With that said, here are some games to watch for as potential pitfalls for the Cats:
1/21-Alabama: ‘Bama always has talent, and this year’s team is no different. I saw the Tide play when they lost to Dayton here in December, and though I think UK wins this one, the Tide is always a team to watch out for.
2/7-Florida: The first of two with the Gators is in Rupp, and the Cats must win at home.
2/11-@ Vanderbilt: Memorial Gymnasium should be outlawed due to the stupid set up with teams at opposite ends of the court, and you know the Commodore faithful will make the old building rock. This game has a loss written all over it unless the Cats are at the top of their game.
2/21-@ Mississippi State-There isn’t much to do in Starkville, and the State fans always bring their A game when Kentucky comes to town. This too could prove to be a potential loss.
3/4-@ Florida: The SEC season comes to a close in Gainesville, and it’s conceivable that the league title could be on the line here. The O-Dome is a tough place to play, and it will be senior day for the Gators, so it will take all the Wildcats have to come out of this game with a win.
So how do I see things shaking out? It’s unfortunate that three of the four games against the best the SEC has to offer are on the road. I look for the Cats to go 13-3 with losses at Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Florida, but I also think that’s enough to earn Kentucky’s 45th SEC championship and the top seed in the SEC tourney in New Orleans.
That’s how I see it-tell me what you think?go back