By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
One week ago, the Cats collapsed over the last 12 minutes and allowed South Carolina to change the Cats’ 14 point lead into an 8 point Gamecock win. In the aftermath, the players, the coach, and the fans became very vocal. How could this have happened? Why did it occur? Will the Cats “get right” when Florida comes into Rupp on Saturday for College Game Day?
The Cats did battle the Gators, but turnovers, rebounding, and poor shooting allowed the Gators to get out of Rupp with a huge win over the Cats, by 2 points. The Cats had the ball in their hands for the last 20 seconds with a chance to either tie or win the game, but could not get a shot to the rim. For conference races, protecting the home court is an essential component in the formula of success because road wins are so difficult to achieve. Any home loss spells trouble in that regard, but a home loss to a contender is double trouble.
The UK home loss to the league leading Gators virtually handed the 2018 SEC regular season championship to Florida. However, Auburn is nipping at the Gator’s heels in this championship race. Kentucky and Tennessee are currently in a dog-cat fight for 3rd and 4th place, with the Volunteers holding a slight edge over the Cats due to their win in Knoxville 2 weeks ago. The Cats can recover and stay in the hunt for one of the four double byes in this year’s SEC Tournament. However, the Cats must not lose again at home, and they must pick up a couple of additional road wins, a task that is not likely to occur unless the Cats resolve the myriad of issues that have been plaguing this team all season.
Quade Green returned to game action on Saturday against Florida. While the level of his play was clearly not on par with his pre-injury play, his return to action provides the Cats with more depth at the guard position which is a positive for this team. The Cats are nearly back to full strength, with Tai Wynyard still on the sidelines.
The Cats have now lost two games in a row for the eighth time in the Calipari Era. The prior seven times occurred once in 2011, 2014, 2016, and 2017. In 2013, the Cats dropped back to back games three times. No Calipari coached UK team has lost three in a row. Therefore, when the Cats limp back into Rupp Arena tonight to host Mississippi State, another record carrying potential negativity is in play. Couple this with this team’s recent flirtation with the nation leading 3 point shooting streak, this team could place itself on the wrong side of UK basketball history if it fails to take care of business tonight.
MISSISSIPPI STATE brings a 14-5, 2-4 in the SEC record into Rupp. After starting their season with eight straight wins, and a 13-1, 1-0 record after a 15 point loss to #8 Cincinnati on December 12, the Bulldogs have lost 4 of their last 5 SEC games. Their only win during this losing streak was over #96 Vanderbilt by 18 in Starkville. Mississippi State’s SEC losses have been at Mississippi by 6, at Florida by 17, at Alabama by 6, and at home to Auburn by 8. The Bulldogs’ most impressive win this season was over # 36 Arkansas by 3 in Starkville when they opened the SEC season. The Bulldogs have played with an ANE of 0.096 ppp (#87) after having played a schedule strength of -0.019 ppp (#219).
The Cats are ranked #42 with an ANE of 0.171 ppp after having played a schedule with a schedule strength of 0.074 ppp (#15). The ANE analysis has the Cats favored by 10 points, 76-66 in a game played at a pace of 73 possessions. Pomeroy has the Cats favored by 8, 71-63 with a pace of 68 possessions.
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