Kentucky basketball: Where can the Wildcats steal some wins down the stretch

Kentucky Wildcats Jacob Toppin. Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Kentucky Wildcats Jacob Toppin. Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Kentucky basketball team looking for losses to flip to wins.

Resembling more of the game of roulette the Kentucky basketball season is like the little white ball rolling around because no one knows quite where it will land.

Nothing has been easy for UK this season and sometimes it looks like a dumpster fire in hopes gasoline isn’t tossed on it.

After letting the game slip away against Alabama when they were poised to pull off the upset of the Southeastern Conference-leading Crimson Tide a generation of Wildcat fans may remember a song from the television show Hee-Haw that began dancing in their heads.

That song was “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me” by Buck Owens and Roy Clark.  The chorus epitomized that loss and many this season.

Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Kentucky is in the midst of the hardest stretch of SEC games and had they not fumbled away a game they clearly should have won over Georgia and the Alabama meltdown in the closing three minutes it would be a different saga.

Tonight they face off at Missouri at the halfway point of the conference schedule. Kentucky sits square in the middle of the standings at 4-4, 5-10 overall.

Many fear this team’s only shot is winning the SEC Tournament to make the NCAA tournament and that may be true, but not according to coach John Calipari who hasn’t lost faith. Of course, this is the same coach who doesn’t put stock in the tournament during most seasons – until now.

He noted after the loss to Alabama on  if the SEC Tournament should be held.

"“You guys know I love conference tournaments. That’s one of my favorite times of the year. So, I will be very disappointed if we’re not playing a conference tournament because I just love the conference tournament.”"

So where can Kentucky help themselves during the final 9 regular-season games? Let’s take a look.

Kenpom projects Kentucky to go 3-6 during those games including losing the next two and finish with a 10-14, 9-8 record. But of those, the projected loss margin is 4 points once, 2 points once, and three games by a single point. The only one greater is at Tennessee.

So take care of business in the other 3 and flip a few of these losses into wins and it doesn’t sting as much. It goes like this with Kenpom’s scores:

Texas (projected score 69-65 L)

This game was canceled due to Covid-19 and who knows how it would have played out, but Kentucky seems to rise to the occasion in big games this season, and had they pulled a stunner over the No. 5 ranked Longhorns in Rupp it could have boosted the team’s morale and stock. They need as many top-level wins to bolster the resume.

Missouri (69-65 L)

These teams are scheduled just once at the moment in Columbia at 7 pm tonight in a game pushed back a day due to Covid issues.  The Tigers (11-3, 4-3) are just one game ahead of the Wildcats in the standings and Joe Lunardi has them as a No. 4seed and sits at No. 30 in the NET Rankings. Kentucky has slipped to No. 77 this week.

The No. 12 ranked Tigers hung 102 points on TCU in a 102-98 win on Saturday and scored 82 against Auburn earlier in the week. Kentucky can’t come close to putting that many points up and this may be a tall task for the Wildcats but this is where the upward climb has to start.

These two teams played a fun-filled overtime game in a rocking Rupp Arena in 2013.

Tennessee (61-59 L) in Lexington, 64-57 L in Knoxville)

Talk about a true dumpster fire in Knoxville with the football team’s scandals firing of coach Jeremy Pruitt and Athletic Director Phil Fulmer abruptly retiring afterward this brings delight to Kentucky fans anytime its hated neighbor to the south comes under distress.

Expected to be the top dog in the SEC this season the Vols have dropped three of their past four games to Florida, Missouri, and a 52-50 stunner to Ole Miss on Tuesday where they scored just 22 second-half points while pounding Kansas and nipping Mississippi State.

Kentucky really needs to steal one if not both of these games with Lexington being the better hope.

Arkansas (70-69 L)

Clearly, one of the 50/50 games here Kentucky has to win. They only have one shot against the Razorbacks and that finishes off the brutal losing stretch. Kenpom has it nearly an even game. Arkansas is slated as the last of the 6 SEC teams Lunardi has in the NCAA tournament. Arkansas is also projected as one of the six SEC schools in the dance at No. 11.

Auburn (71-68 W)

Kentucky already has fallen to Bruce Pearl once this year and doing it twice would not be joyful. Kentucky reverted back to bad habits the first time they met. If the brutal stretch prior doesn’t do this team in the Wildcats will look for some revenge in Lexington.

Vanderbilt (71-66 W)

Never a pretty game when these teams meet on the court or football field for some reason. Style points aren’t up for grabs here but a win is a must over the SEC cellar dweller. The Wildcats really, really need to put the hammer down to one of these teams and this would be the best option.

Texas A&M (64-55 W)

The Aggies are currently just above Vandy at the bottom of the conference and another must-win game. No ifs, and, or buts.

This is the third to last game and projected the last win for Kentucky on February 23. They need late momentum down the stretch and Texas A&M should provide the boost.

Florida (69-68 L)

The Gators were completely embarrassed by Kentucky in Gainsville earlier in the season and one would believe sharpening their teeth for revenge. With the game in Rupp, it provides a bit of hope but it never seems to be good when you anger a Gator or you could get chomped. Another game for the taking here for Kentucky.

Joe Lunardi has them in the NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed.

Ole Miss (61-60 L)

Nothing like a season final in Oxford. It may be all doom and gloom for both of these teams by this point entering March as the Rebels are picked to finish 13-11, 8-9. With no way to project how things will play out by this point, we’ll simply leave it as a toss-up just as this season has been all year.

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