Pregame Reading: The Real Season Starts Tonight for UK
The Cats get underway in the SEC Tournament shortly following what has by most accounts been a disappointing season (although 12-6 and second place in the league hardly seems like a crisis). I’d LOVE to be able to tell you what you should expect tonight, but if you watched the team play this year or if you’ve listened to First State Financial Sunday Morning Sports Talk (9 am-Noon on NewsRadio 630 WLAP), you know that’s not happening.
Two reasons for that:
- 1) I am notoriously awful at predicting what’s going to happen in sporting events. It’s the reason I never gamble on games. In fact, if YOU want to gamble on games you’d be well served to find out what I think will happen and bet on whatever the exact opposite is.
- Twice in the last six games, I have given the Cats absolutely no chance to win – against Missouri and against Florida. If you follow Kentucky at all you are already aware they won both of those games.
- 2) This is the most impossible to figure UK team of my lifetime. As a result it’s also the most frustrating.
Kentucky has lost 10 games in the regular season – as they have this season — before. The difference is that when that happened you watched the team and knew they were limited. Each of the last years of the Tubby era and the two years under the Coach Who Shall Not Be Named you watched them play and you saw the problems. Who would score? Who was really a big time player (other than, it turns out, Rajon Rondo)?
This year, you don’t see that. You see guys that when they want to play can REALLY play. Which leaves the question the same tonight as it’s been throughout the year. Do they want to play tonight? Will the Good Ryan Harrow show up? Will Alex Poythress play with a little bit of fire? Will Archie Goodwin limit his mistakes?
If two of those things don’t happen, the Cats could still very well win. Kentucky has won games this year with Archie making mistakes. Kentucky has won this year with Alex playing like he didn’t want to be there. What they haven’t done – at least in a game of any substance – is win when Ryan Harrow didn’t show up. When Harrow is good this Kentucky team is good. On the Big Blue Insider Roundtable I was on Wednesday night, Aaron Smith of Cats Illustrated had the numbers for Ryan when UK wins and UK loses. Of course I can’t remember them, but the difference was staggering. The one I do recall is that in UK losses, Ryan’s assists-to-turnover ratio is something like 2.3-to-1. In losses, it’s less than 1-to-1. When Harrow plays well, the entire UK offense flows well. When Harrow doesn’t play well, the Cats don’t have answers.
Kentucky SHOULD be able to win tonight. This isn’t the Vandy team of the past few years that the Cats face tonight. This is a bad Vandy team. But it’s also a Vandy team that has played Kentucky close twice. Both times Kentucky built decent leads and let Vandy back in. The last time they faced each other in Nashville, Kentucky was lucky to escape (although admittedly Bridgestone Arena doesn’t pose the same problems as Memorial Gymnasium does). Vandy can still shoot the three, as they showed last night against Arkansas. But most of what we saw from Vanderbilt last night was bad, clumsy basketball.
And Kentucky likely still needs to win tonight. Their spot in the NCAA Tournament field is far from firm. Losing to Arkansas – who did Kentucky no favors by playing like a rec league team last night – may not have hurt Kentucky as badly as a loss to Vandy surely would.
So what will happen? In the best interests of the Big Blue Nation, I may have to go with … the Cats have no chance of winning.