By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Kentucky Basketball. Tennessee Football. That’s usually the way most fans think about those two schools. This year has been a little out of the ordinary. Tennessee Football finished 0-8 in the SEC last year. UK Football finished 4-4. The basketball teams also seem to be on opposite trajectories.
Kentucky Basketball appears to be limping to the finish line of the SEC schedule. With a 6-4 record and games against Tennessee, Texas A&M, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Ole Miss and Florida it is easy to see at least 4 losses out of that group and maybe more. That would leave UK with a 10-8 record in the SEC and probably a middle of the pack finish.
Tennessee on the other hand seems to be heading upward. The Volunteers have won five straight games in the SEC since suffering a close loss to Missouri in mid-January. With a 7-3 record and a team that seems to be playing well together – 27 assists on 33 made field goals in their last game against Ole Miss – along with a coaching legend in Rick Barnes on the bench it appears that Tennessee is in a prime position to make a strong run at Auburn for the SEC title. This from a team that was picked to finish 13th in the league in the pre-season.
So what about Kentucky? The Wildcats – picked to win the league in preseason – seem to be content to continue to go through the motions of playing basketball without really being emotionally invested. It’s difficult to see many players that appear to be willing to sacrifice their own personal game for the good of the team. That is a losing combination. In Kentucky’s most recent game against Missouri the Cats had 9 assists on 23 made field goals. That’s 39% of the time one player was assisting another to score. Compare that to the UT percentage – 82%. That statistic alone speaks volumes about these two teams.
But listen to the coaches themselves. This is what UT Coach Rick Barnes had to say about why his team has been successful this season. “We do have a group of guys that talk about sharing the ball, talk about wanting a good shot, better shot. We have guys that make shots, and everyone does what they do best,” Barnes said. Now listen to this quote from UK Coach Calipari. “I’m trying to find five guys that could pass it to each other. That’s all I was looking for. And I thought at the start of the (second) half we did it and then all of a sudden we kind of reverted. I couldn’t find five guys who would pass to each other”, Calipari said in reference to UK’s loss to Missouri.
Two teams headed in opposite directions. One of them looking like a well-oiled machine while the other one looks like a train wreck. With eight games to go it will be interesting to see if Coach Calipari can find the brake on this train headed downhill before they hit the bottom. Meanwhile Rick Barnes can enjoy the ride with a team that was picked to finish next to last in the SEC. Such is the life of coaching in the new, more competitive SEC Basketball Conference.