With the regular season coming to a close and tournament time rapidly approaching us, many people are questioning the Cats seeding in the tournament, if they make it at all. Before we get ahead of ourselves remember, the Cats still have two conference games remaining- Georgia on Thursday in Athens and Florida at home on Saturday. From there we still have the SEC tournament next weekend up until Selection Sunday.
On Georgia: The Bulldogs are currently 14-15 for the season, 8-8 in the SEC and 11-6 at home. Their last game was a win over the University of Tennessee. The Cats are 20-9 overall, 11-5 in conference and 4-6 away. The fact that Georgia beat Tennessee is huge, the Cats struggled against the Vols last time and that game got ugly quick. Georgia scored 13 points off Tennessee turnovers and 30 in the paint. They also had 14 easy 2nd chance points and their bench scored 41 points against the Vols. Another problem for UK? They struggle to finish games and aren’t too hot the road and the Dawgs tend to do well at home. To beat Georgia Kentucky is going to again, rely heavily on the guards to not turn the ball over. Wiltjer and Cauley-Stein are going to have to keep UGA from attacking the glass and getting easy points. This game is at 7:00 and airs on ESPN.
On Florida: Currently the Gators are ranked #8 in the AP and #6 in the USA Today poll and are playing Vanderbilt on Wednesday which should be a fairly easy win for Billy Donovan and his Florida squad. UF is 23-5 overall and 13-3 in the SEC. Last time the Cats met the Gators was February 12 down in Gainesville. Gators took that game 69-52, some of you may remember this as the night Nerlens went down (shudder). That night Florida had 36 points in the paint, 10 more than UK. Another horrifying stat? UK scored 5 points off Florida turnovers; Florida scored 20 off UK turnovers. The fact that the Cats will return to Rupp for their last regular season game is a definite advantage, but the Gators aren’t bad on the road and Billy D is no stranger to Rupp. The Gators are hands-down playing the best basketball in the SEC right now. If the Cats want to win this game (which would be HUGE for making the tournament) they will once again, have to stay in control and not turn over the ball. The guard play is crucial for these last two games. Florida also lives and dies by the 3-point shot so if UK can guard the perimeter and stop them on defense that can be the difference maker. We need to see the Mizzou-Alex Poythress and bring back the physicality also if they want to beat the Gators on Saturday. This game is at noon and airs on CBS. This is a game changer for our tournament hopes.
On the SEC tournament: The fact that even last year’s squad didn’t win the SEC tournament kind of scares me at this point with this team. With Missouri and A&M being added to the SEC, the SEC tourney will expand to 14 teams this year. Previously the top 4 seeds would have a bye, but this now becomes a double-bye because there is a new round added. The new round will feature the four lowest seeds (11-14). Seeds 5-10 get a single bye into the second round now. After the new round of matchups on day 1 the rest of the tournament will play out like it has in previous years. Florida has clenched the #1 spot and the Cats are currently tied with Alabama for #2 as they are both 11-5 in conference. Kentucky has the better overall record, however- Bama is 19-10 and Kentucky is 20-9.
The tournament begins Wednesday, March 13 with the #12 facing #13 followed by the #11 and #14, both on the SEC Network beginning at 6:30. Round 2 on Thursday begins at noon on the SEC Network starting with the #8 vs #9 and then #5 vs the winner of game 1, then the #7 vs the #10 and #6 vs the winner of game 2. Quarterfinals on Friday begin at noon, coverage on the SEC Network again. Game 7 will be Florida vs winner of game 3, game 8 will be the #4 taking on the winner of game 4, game 9 is the #2 vs the winner of game 5 and game 10 will be the #3 vs the winner of game 6. The semifinals on Saturday begin at noon and will air on ABC, and the championship game will air at noon on ABC on Selection Sunday. The SEC tournament is in Nashville this year at the Bridgestone Arena.
If the Cats can get a good seed in the SEC tournament and make a good run this would be HUGE regarding their NCAA hopes. Kentucky is 1-1 on neutral sites but we know that the BBN tends to travel well and since Nashville isn’t far I expect a big blue presence in Bridgestone. I can see Kentucky going as far as the semis at least, but as with every other game this season, it depends which Kentucky squad shows up. The fact that the Cats have beaten Vandy twice, A&M once, Tennessee once, Auburn twice, LSU once, Ole Miss once, South Carolina once, Missouri once, and Mississippi State once is promising and helpful. The only SEC team’s Kentucky hasn’t beat at all are Alabama, Florida, Arkansas and Georgia- who they have yet to play. They get a second change with Florida and since Arkansas is 9-7 in the SEC that loss shouldn’t affect the seeding too much. Alabama plays Ole Miss and Georgia between now and then. There are several things that can happen. If they lose both and Kentucky loses both Kentucky should be seeded higher because they have a better overall record. If Alabama wins one or both and Kentucky wins neither, then obviously Alabama will be seeded over UK. If Kentucky wins one or both and Bama wins neither then the #2 goes to Kentucky. Ole Miss and Mizzou are both 10-6, however so if both teams lose both games either of those teams could come out and get a higher seed also.
It’s a lot of what-if’s this time of the year, but one thing is clear- the last two regular season games are CRUCIAL for the Cat’s NCAA hopes. They NEED at least one win, preferably two, a solid road win and a home win against a ranked opponent would show that they are ready for the tournament. If they get a good seed and go far in the SEC tourney, that will increase their chances exponentially but a road win at Georgia would speak volumes on their ability to finish and play on the road. That would show growth as a team and development as individuals, I think. Only time will tell but one thing is for sure, IT’S MARCH MADNESS IN THE BLUEGRASS, BABY!