This Saturday begins the slate of SEC games for the Kentucky Wildcats. They open up with the Georgia Bulldogs, which is not a complete push over but should be winnable, seeing that they have lost their only two challenging games so far on the schedule.
Kentucky has the ability to open up many peoples eye’s during conference play. The Florida Gators, at the start of the season, were picked by many to win the SEC East and even the entire conference. I am pretty sure analysts may take that pick back if they had a do-over.
Florida has looked very inconsistent and not very good. If Florida is going to win the SEC they will not be able to lose games to the likes of Jacksonville and UCF. Granted UCF is playing very good basketball and sitting at No. 18 in the country. The SEC champ has to be better then the No. 18 team in the country. That being said they also have to be much better then Jacksonville.
Kentucky has to keep a couple things in the back of their head as they begin the long stretch of conference games.
1. Look out in the Post
You can give as much praise as you want to Josh Harrellson. He has been fantastic in every game but the two losses. The reason why? He doesn’t have the height or athletic ability to keep up against the physical teams.
In the Connecticut loss, Harrellson was abused by Alex Oriakhi, who ended up dropping 18 points and 11 boards compared to Harrellson’s whopping goose-egg in the point department and he finished with six boards. In the North Carolina game he wasn’t much better finishing with four points and seven boards. Tyler Zeller and John Henson of North Carolina combined for forty of UNC’s 75 points and 23 rebounds.
Since North Carolina, Kentucky has not played a team with any substantial height and Harrellson has excelled. Against the Georgia Bulldog’s he will once again get a chance in a match-up where he is the underdog talent wise. Trey Thompkins is an amazing talent in the paint for the Bulldogs and Harrellson will need to find a way to slow the big man down.
The one good thing for Kentucky this season is that no team has an incredible post game other then Georgia. The Florida Gators aren’t bad but it is the year of the guard in the SEC. Teams that can match-up with Harrellson in the paint will provide many problems for Kentucky.
2. Strong Three Point Shooting
It says it all in the headline. The Wildcats were terrible from the three point line last year. This is more of a long term confidence boost. The Wildcats should be fine on some nights even if their shooting is off.
If they are able to get the shooting rolling early and keep it up then it will make tournament time much easier. The ‘Cats are quick and if they are knocking down the jump shots teams will be forced to come out of their zones and play Kentucky straight up. Making it much easier for Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins and Terrence Jones to get in the paint.
However, if they are unable to shoot during conference play then teams will scout them for this during tournament time and it could hurt Kentucky. Shooting has been the catalyst for Kentucky so far this season and it shouldn’t be a problem but if they lose that touch it will be very difficult for Kentucky to win.
3. Terrence Jones Needs To Get Out of His Slump
Terrence Jones needs to return to the same player he was during the Maui Invitational. He makes Kentucky the power that they are. Sure, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb can fill it up but Terrence Jones provides the energy and spark in the starting five.
When he is one he is nearly unstoppable. He settles for too many outside jump shots and if he were to shoot from the elbow of the key or even fifteen feet from the basket he is very good.
Teams have figured out how to defend the talented freshmen so now the ball is in his court to adjust and figure out ways to beat their defense. He has been vital on the boards for the Wildcats but his offense needs to come back around.
4. Look Out For The Vanderbilt Commodores
Vandy has shocked everyone. They nearly pulled off a victory against #8 Missouri in overtime and they beat North Carolina. John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor have been doing everything for Vanderbilt.
Also, Festus Ezeli could hurt Kentucky in the paint. He is 6’11″ and averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds per game. Harrellson, as stated earleir doesn’t perform very well when he is at a height disadvantage.
The most important date on Kentucky’s schedule will end up being February 12 when the Wildcats travel to Vanderbilt. It is very difficult for any team to beat Kevin Stallings in Memorial Gymnasium and this season will be no different.
I still think it is unfair to have the benches behind each hoop but it is one of the best home-court advantages in the country. John Calipari is not a very good coach when the offense is away from his end of the floor and with freshmen on the floor it is easy to confuse them.
5. No More Rocky Top
Tennessee is going to be tough. Bruce Pearl salivates at the thought of every big game he is a part of and he is an incredible big game coach. The two times that Kentucky meets Tennessee this season will be two of the biggest games of the season.
The good thing for Kentucky is that Tennessee has been the most inconsistent team in the SEC. They went out and knocked out Villanova and Pitt, then lost to College of Charleston and Charlotte. They just beat Memphis by twenty which could put the Volunteers back on track.
Scotty Hopson, depending on how he plays during conference play will most likely be First Team All-Conference and could make a push for Conference Player of the Year. Tobias Harris has also lived up to the reputation as one of the best freshmen in the country, scoring 15 ppg. and pulling down seven boards.
Anything can happen in rivalry games and no one knows this better then Bruce Pearl. Just have Jodie Meeks ask him how 54 tastes?