By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
When the Cats went to Arkansas on Tuesday evening, they started the game by falling into a deep early hole, down 11-0 before the first media timeout occurred. Subsequent to this near disastrous start, the Cats owned the Hogs, outscoring them on their court by 24 points, 85-61 for a huge 13 point road win over Arkansas. Including the 0-11 start, the game was the second strongest overall effort by this UK team all season, and the most complete game since they dismantled Louisville at Rupp in late December.
The win lifted the Cats in the current SEC standings, but more significantly, it positioned the Cats for a strong season finish with two of their last 3 games at Rupp before seeking to finish at Florida with a chance to win one of the four precious double byes for the upcoming SEC Tournament. The win at Arkansas has set the table, and now the Cats must take care of business against Missouri by showing continued improvement. Then the Cats will have one last tuneup opportunity this coming week when Ole Miss comes to Rupp for the Cats’ “senior” night before the final show down against the Gators on March 3.
The SEC standings have a 6-team log jam in 3rd place with 8-7 records with 3 games to play. Kentucky is in this group, as are two of their last three opponents, Missouri and Florida. The others in this group are Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi State, each of whom the Cats have beaten and would own the tiebreaker. This means the Cats have the ability to win one of the double bye positions without relying upon help from any other team by finishing the season 3-0 from here, but a loss in these final three games will probably leave the Cats outside the top four spots after applying the relevant tie-breakers to the final standings.
On February 3, Missouri defeated the Cats 69-60 in Columbia. Since that initial meeting, the Tigers won their next 3 games, but over the last week, Missouri has lost twice, at LSU by 1 and at home to Mississippi by 3 in OT. Reports in the press earlier this week indicate that doctors have released freshman Phenom Michael Porter Jr. to play, and he may make an appearance against the Cats on Saturday in Rupp Arena. For the Cats, their loss at Missouri was the first loss that eventually grew into the infamous 4 game losing streak before the Cats righted their ship against Alabama a week ago and handled the Hogs with some ease in Fayetteville last Tuesday.
Missouri’s 18-10, 8-7 record has produced an ANE of 0.178 ppp (#36) by playing a schedule with a strength of 0.092 ppp (#23). The Cats’ 19-9, 8-7 record has produced an ANE of 0.182 ppp (#33) by playing a schedule with a strength of 0.109 ppp (#8). The ANE analysis gives the edge to Kentucky by 6 points, 75-69, in a game played at a pace of 71 possessions. Pomeroy has the Kentucky favored by 5, 73-68 with a pace of 66 possessions. Vegas opened today with Kentucky a 5 point favorite.
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