After a mass-exodus in 2010 to the NBA draft and college gradutation, UK head coach John Calipari was left to fill in the holes left by the departed. How did he do it? With the #1 recruiting class in the nation, for the second year in a row.
Could this team repeat the success of last year? Will too many freshmen and not enough experience lead to disaster? We're to that point in the season where there's no more hiding flaws, injuries or lack of talent/experience. Good or bad, the 2011 edition of the University of Kentucky Wildcats will be exposed... starting this weekend in Atlanta.
This year’s Kentucky Wildcats ended up the regular season with a 22-8 record (10-6 SEC). And, by no means should the record be considered “disappointing”, the fact that they lost their 6 of their 8 games by less than 3 points leaves fans optimistic for what’s to come, yet wondering also “what might have been”. Headlined by veterans DeAndre Liggins and
Earning a first-round bye against Tennessee last weekend in Knoxville, the Wildcats got their much-needed extra day of rest. When you only go 6-7 players deep, a format of a back-to-back-to-back games in a tournament can wreak havoc on an already slim team. Those 6 or 7 guys have gotten them this far, though, and that's who is bringing them home.
UK kicks off their tournament tomorrow at 3:30 against the winner of today's matchup of Ole Miss vs. South Carolina. UK beat South Carolina twice this season, both at home and away. While Ole Miss was able to beat the Wildcats earlier in the season on a last second shot at their home arena, luck nor history will be on the Rebels' side this time. There's a reason they call Atlanta CATlanta this time of year.
On Saturday, if they advance, the Wildcats will play the winner of Alabama and (likely) Georgia at 1 pm. Both teams beat the Wildcats already this season, as Georgia handed the Wildcats their season-worst SEC lost by 7 points. If Alabama wins against Georgia, look for the Wildcats to get revenge for their 2-point loss in Tuscaloosa. If it's UK vs. Georgia, the matchup could be interesting as the Bulldogs are the only fans who could threaten UK's "home" court advantage they'll have in the Georgia Dome.
Should the Wildcats win their Saturday game, the Championship game will be held at 1 pm and will **likely** be a counterpart from the SEC Eastern Division in Vanderbilt or Florida. Smart money is on Florida, setting up a matchup in what would be the two best teams in the SEC.
With two players on the just announced All SEC First Team in Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, the Wildcats are actually FAVORED to win the SEC tournament this weekend. Fans wouldn't have guessed that just two weeks ago as UK had only won one of its SEC road games.
After a convincing win in Knoxville, though, many "experts" changed their tunes. And, it wasn't because Enes Kanter was suddenly freed or because UK's third #1 class (in a row) enrolled early. It's because from here on out in the season, there's no more road games for the Wildcats. UK fans travel far and wide to see their team. And, while it won't quite be Rupp Arena, anywhere they play- their fans will follow.
And, when they play at home? They're undefeated the last two seasons, currently sitting at 33-0. Those are odds I'd take anytime.
I say UK wins its 26th SEC Tournament trophy this weekend, earning a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament next week.