It has been a long and trying season for the Wildcats and Big Blue Nation. It was a season full of plenty of home wins and plenty of road woes. Kentucky fans had their hearts broken by the NCAA when the Turkish god was ruled ineligible and watched the lone senior take the brunt of the criticism for why Kentucky’s low post was going to be non-existent. Fans got to see three freshmen basketball players carry their beloved blue and white for yet another season. The fans also were given the pleasure of watching two juniors grow-up right before their eyes.
The regular has finally come to an end and now in my opinion the most exciting time of the year in sports is upon us. The Wildcats with their win over the Tennessee Volunteers on Sunday clinched a first round bye in the SEC tournament, which will be a much needed break for a team that is not very deep.
The Wildcats finished the regular season at 22-8 (10-6). The Wildcat faithful was spoiled last year when they were given the pleasure of watching three freshmen play together that easily could have gone directly to the NBA.
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This season was a bit different. The ‘Cats freshmen are tremendously talented but don’t have the same set of skills that John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe brought to work every game.
The young and unproven Wildcats were given their first test of the season when they faced off against a much more experienced and disciplined team in the Connecticut Huskies in Maui. The country was able to see what Kentucky’s strength’s were going to be and weaknesses.
The weakness was very apparent. Kentucky lacked the post game that Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins had provided just a season ago. Alex Oriakhi was able to have his way with the ‘Cats in the post and it helped that Kemba Walker had his coming out party, finishing with 29 points in a 84-67 rout of the Wildcats.
Kentucky was then again test shortly after that when they went on the road to play North Carolina at the Dean Dome. A similar story unfolded as the Wildcats were manhandled in the post yet again by Tyler Zeller and John Henson.
The ‘Cats then rattled off seven straight victories beating the likes of then #23 Notre Dame, Indiana and at the time #20 Louisville.
A sign of things to come were displayed when Kentucky headed down to Athens, Georgia to take on the Georgia Bulldogs in their first conference match-up. The Wildcats lost a close one 77-70. Trey Thompkins was the headline and reason the ‘Cats were unable to come away with the win.
The conference schedule was the most consistent basketball the Wildcats played throughout the season. You could chalk them up for an automatic win at Rupp Arena and you could give them an automatic loss in just about every road game they played in. The biggest win of the season for the Wildcats would have to be the game in Knoxville versus the Volunteers.
Kentucky was playing for their first round bye on Tennessee’s senior night and while Tennessee was playing to pick up a key win to boost their tournament résumé. Kentucky started the game off as they do most games on the road. Slow and awful. The Volunteers jumped out to a 7-0 lead and had the lead at halftime. Without the tremendous second half from Brandon Knight the Wildcats were on a one-way road to being coined the worst road team in the country. The ‘Cats escaped with a 64-58 victory.
The Wildcats had a shaky regular season and other then Brandon Knight they were very inconsistent. Consistency is something that will be needed moving on to tournament play.
The Wildcats have a very winnable road to the SEC tournament finals. They will most likely play Ole’ Miss in the second round and in the semi-finals will probably get the likes of either Alabama or Georgia. With their win they were able to sneak on to the opposite side of the bracket and avoid both Vandy and Florida. This is something that John Calipari can be nothing but pleased with.
The win at Tennessee hopefully gave the Wildcats some confidence heading into the tournament as well. We now know that Kentucky can beat a solid team away from Rupp Arena.
Kentucky didn’t have the most ideal regular season but twenty wins and sitting in a very good position to get to the SEC finals for the second straight year is all Big Blue Nation can ask for. It’s time for everyone to get their brackets ready and hopefully the freshmen enjoy pandemonium because they are about to walk into an atmosphere they have never been a part of.