By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
On Tuesday night, the Cats dropped their second home game of the season, this time to Tennessee by 2 points, 61-59. The Cats held a lead late in the game, but a pair of turnovers in the last three possessions of the game allowed Tennessee to move back into the lead and secure their second win of the season over the Cats. This is the first time since 2006 for the Volunteers to win a game in Rupp over the Cats, and the first time since 1999 that the Volunteers swept a two game season series over a Kentucky team.
The loss Tuesday was the second time this season that the Cats have dropped back to back games. No Coach Calipari UK team has lost three in a row, and since Adoph Rupp arrived in Lexington prior to the 1930 season 89 years ago, only 14 UK teams have lost 3 or more in a row. This team is treading on dangerous ground and will be walking on very thin ice when it takes on the Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday night in Reed Arena at College Station.
The Cats hold an all-time 9-3 record over the Aggies. The Cats are 2-1 (all games in Lexington) in games played prior to Texas A&M joining the SEC for the 2013 season, and 7-2 over the Aggies since this matchup because an annual event in 2013.
In the most recent 5 ½ seasons of regular competition, these teams have played four time in College Station, four times in Lexington, and once in Nashville in the 2016 SEC Tournament. The SEC Tournament game, and three of the four games in College Station required five overtime periods to determine a winner. In addition, the most recent game between these teams, about a month ago in Lexington, required an official to swallow his whistle with under 4 seconds remaining to allow the Cats to hang on and escape in Rupp with a fragile 1 point win, 74-73.
Texas A&M started the season like gang busters, beating #9 West Virginia by 23 points on a neutral court. The Aggies won their first 7, beating Oklahoma State by 17, Penn State by 11, and USC by 16 in the process. Then the Aggies began to fall on hard times with injuries and disciplinary issues that made key players unavailable.
Their trend took a precipitous decline as a result and dispite an 11-1 non-conference record (only loss at #21 Arizona by 3 points on December 5, 2017, Texas A&M opened SEC play with five straight defeats, including their 1 point loss at Rupp. However, in recent weeks, the Aggies have been getting their players back, and have reversed their declining trend recently. After their 0-5 SEC start, the Aggies have won 5 of their last 6 SEC games including a road win on Wednesday night at Auburn, the SEC pace setters at the moment.
For all the talk about UK’s “great upside” which is rooted primarily in the wishful thinking, or as so many fans have been saying since Wednesday, Hope, it is Texas A&M that has the large upside as it prepares to make it stretch run toward March.
Since the Cats and Aggies met at Rupp on January 9, each team has played 8 games. Texas A&M has won 6 times, losing at Tennessee by 13 four days after losing in Rupp, and losing at Kansas by 11. The Cats have won 4 and lost 4 times since hanging on to beat Texas A&M by 1 at Rupp. While the Aggies give every indication that they have recovered from their early season personnel losses and are trending upward, Kentucky appears to be struggling to find its heart and soul. Following the West Virginia game, it still seemed possible that this team would actually turn the corner necessary for a strong finish, but this team’s play in the three games since West Virginia shout a different message. Now the Cats need a road win at Texas A&M to avoid the dubious achievement of being only the 15th UK team of the last 89 years to lose 3 in a row in the same season.
Texas A&M’s 16-8, 5-6 record has produced an ANE of 0.200 ppp (#22) by playing a schedule with a strength of 0.100 ppp (#6). The Cats’ 17-7, 6-5 record has produced an ANE of 0.177 ppp (#33) by playing a schedule with a strength of 0.094 ppp (#10).
The ANE analysis gives the edge to Texas A&M by 6 points, 75-69, in a game played at a pace of 74 possessions. Pomeroy has the Texas A&M favored by 4, 71-67 with a pace of 68 possessions. Vegas opened today with Texas A&M a 4 1/2 point favorite.
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