Kentucky Wildcats, Florida Gators, both confident and familiar with each other

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I have to admit that the Kentucky Wildcats run to perfection and their first SEC Tournament title would feel a bit incomplete if it did not include meeting the Florida Gators in the Tournament.  Lat year, Florida defeated Kentucky three times en route to a 19-0 sweep of the SEC regular season and tournament.  And trust me, the Kentucky players remember that and want some revenge.  The Gators made that happen with a win over Alabama yesterday and if you listen to the Gators speak, this is what they wanted. A third change to hang that “1” on the right side of Kentucky’s ledger.

"“They’re good,” Coach Cal said. “Everybody is excited about playing us. I’d imagine they were because they played us good both games. My team’s – we had a great practice today. I think they’re ready to play basketball, whoever it is. They’re capable of beating us. No question.” Kentucky topped Florida 68-61 in an exciting game in Gainesville, Fla., but trailed by nine in the first half and didn’t take the lead for good until Willie Cauley-Stein’s legendary dunk with 12:09 left in the second half. The Cats benefitted greatly by going 21 of 22 at the free-throw line in that game. Then on Saturday, Kentucky and Florida were separated by just three points with 10:28 remaining in the game before the Cats gained separation in the final 10 minutes. “They’re healthy,” Coach Cal said. “They’ve got a full complement of guys. They should be confident. They played us twice really good.” UK assistant coach John Robic said Tuesday that he feels the concept of “it’s difficult to beat a team three times” is a bit exaggerated, saying instead, “it’s the next game,” and agreed with Donovan in that sometimes it can be more difficult when you haven’t played the opponent in a long time because of all that can change during that time in between."

Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

This should be a good test for the Kentucky Wildcats. The Gators are playing for pride and that can mean they play up to their top ten preseason ranking. To a man, the Gators seemed up to the challenge in their post game interviews after Alabama.

"But the Gators pushed the Cats – at least for a while – in both previous meetings. Florida led by as many as nine in the first half and was tied with 12:09 remaining in Round 1, then trailed by just three with 10:28 to go in the rematch at Rupp Arena. “They’re pretty good, but they’re definitely beatable,” Gators guard Michael Frazier said. “We know that. If we play our best basketball, we’re capable of beating anyone in the country. We’ve had flashes in the games (against UK) where we’ve matched their physicality, moved the ball, and had success. It’s just about sustaining that for 40 minutes.” That’s been the tricky part for every team that has tested the Cats so far this season. Kentucky goes nine-deep and that eventually wears down even the best teams by the end. It’s exhausting, unpleasant. And still: “We wanted another shot,” Florida forward Chris Walker said. “We’re the only team in the country, in the SEC, to get to play them boys three times, so we can’t wait.” He even outlined the game plan to making the third time the charm: play help defense on the backside against 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns, keep the Harrison twins out of the paint and always locate sharpshooter Devin Booker in transition."

Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the Kentucky Wildcats 31-0 and nine games from a historic season, it’s time to ask ourselves again whether what John Calipari is doing is good for college basketball. It seems like ESPN has to run this sort of story at least one every month or so and well, here it is again.

"Corruption in college sports is so common that any team with the talent of this year’s Wildcats is bound to draw doubters. But the history of Calipari’s previous teams trails him like a shot-blocker running down a fast break. Bob Knight, who coached that unbeaten Indiana team, cited Calipari as an example of how “integrity is really lacking” in college basketball. Judy Rose, athletic director at Charlotte, knows Calipari from their time together in Conference USA. She praises his skill as a coach. So if he were a job candidate, would UMass and Memphis bother her? “If you look at the history, maybe. I would certainly think that the University of Kentucky …” She pauses. “Cal hasn’t been charged with anything, you know?” But as in the rest of big business, sometimes the deeper issue is what’s legal. Even some of Calipari’s friends, such as Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, worry that Calipari’s focus on in-and-out players is hurting the game. “I think John has done a hell of a job,” Izzo said last week. “I’m not sure I’m crazy about the way everything has worked out.” This season, it has worked out fine for John Calipari. On the loading dock in Athens, among friends, he laughs and hugs like the host of the world’s greatest party, waving to the fans in the street as he climbs on the bus. The man pays such attention to detail, you wonder whether he picked the bus company himself. It’s called Champion Coach."