Only One Thing Can Stop Kentucky. And It Just Might.
Photo Courtesy of ESPN
The Kentucky Wildcats are absolutely on FIRE right now. So much so, that they have began to attract national media attention, especially the attention of one, Joe Lunardi. Ya know, the bracketology guy for ESPN. During the recent UK hot streak, Kentucky jumped from a border 3-4 seed in Lunardi's prediction to the final one seed in his most recent. This is a culmination of Kentucky being completely dominate since the LSU loss (minus Auburn, in which they were dominate until the TyTy injury), and some help from higher ranked teams (*coughs* Purdue) losing. In my opinion, Arizona jumping the Cats in the AP poll and bracketology is a hair ridiculous. I get it, I guess. They had two ranked wins in a week but if we are all honest, the PAC-12 is NOT a basketball powerhouse (or football but thats a different discussion).
Either way, all things are looking up for Calipari and his Cats. It seems Coach Cal has his swagger back and really believes in his team. And rightfully so. By all metrics Kentucky is part of a handful of teams that have "net-cutting" potential. While it takes a lot of talent and a little luck to get that far, UK seems to have the make up of that sort of team. While it seems that this team doesn't really have a weakness, I believe that they have one glaring problem that isn't going to show up on the stat sheet.
Don't get me wrong, on paper, it is near impossible to beat Kentucky. They can score inside, mid-range, and from deep. They play top-tier defense, rebound, can win scoring 80+ or under 70, and they have solid depth. To win late in the tournament, a team has to have all of these things. The one thing, however, that doesn't show up on a box score, is the injury bug. Kentucky, better than anyone, knows about this pesky problem. Only Oscar Tschiebwe and Kellan Grady have played all 25 games thus far. In fact, tonight UK plays at Tennessee and it is likely TyTy Washington and possibly Jacob Toppin will miss part two of this top 25 rivalry. At full strength this team is as good or better than everyone in the country, but staying healthy is clearly easier said than done.
While the Cats seem to have gotten better at playing together without some key players (I mean, they've had enough practice), it still doesn't make it easier to go on the road against a ranked rival and pull out a win. And the problem is, their schedule doesn't get any easier anytime soon. Like I mentioned, tonight they play at #16 Tennessee, then you get #25 Alabama at home followed by LSU (who was ranked most of the season) at home and then you get to travel to #23 Arkansas which is an extremely hard place to win. All of these games, at full strength, could be one you lose, let alone being without a couple key players. Obviously I don't expect us to be missing players for all of these games but, no matter what the reason is, you can't afford to drop games if you still want that one seed in the tournament.
I believe I speak for Big Blue Nation when I say that I love this team and I am as hopeful as I have been in a long time about a National Championship coming back to the Bluegrass. But can we please start wrapping the ankles a little tighter before games or something? Injuries are random and do not discriminate one team from another, but I think its safe to say, we have had our fair share. Lets get everyone healthy before the SEC tournament and stay that way. If we can do that, I'll see you all in New Orleans.