There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
These Kentucky Wildcats are mirroring Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz more and more each day. Like the Lion, they are soft when they are on the road. Courage – Soft, it’s the same thing pretty much. They lack toughness. On Wednesday they lost to an Arkansas team that had no business beating them. They have two scorers. TWO! In the game prior to beating Kentucky, the Razorbacks attempted to do all of their damage from the perimeter because they couldn’t get in the paint against Alabama. Marshawn Powell was a non-factor against the Tide. Against Kentucky, they got to the rim at will. Rotnei Clarke is a good player, but there is no reason why he should be beating you at the rim. None.
Is Alabama that much better than Kentucky defensively? Are that they much tougher? On the road they are.
Well, for the ‘Cats sake, two of their final three regular season games are at home sweet home, Rupp Arena. They start with a rematch against the SEC’s top team right now, the Florida Gators. In the first game, Kentucky had a shot at the buzzer, as they have had time and time again, but Brandon Knight’s, who was perfect from three in the game, shot fell short at the buzzer and Florida prevailed, 70-68.
It is just one loss in a list of many close opportunties for the Wildcats on the road.
That win for the Gators was the second of their current six-game winning streak. The six-game streak is their longest since 2007 when they started SEC play with 11 strait wins.They haven’t lost since they fell at Mississippi State January 29. Their only other conference loss came at home against South Carolina early in conference play.
Billy Donovan’s squad is led by their guard tandem in junior Erving Walker (5-8, 171) and sophomore Kenny Boynton (6-2, 183). Walker leads the team in scoring with 14.8 points-per-game and Boynton is right there behind him with 13.3. You have to play up on both of these guys because they are both threats from deep. Walker has knocked down a team-high 57 threes, while shooting 38-percent, and Boyton has 50 and shoots 30-percent.
They are both shoot-first guards that are quick off the bounce and have the ability to knock it down from anywhere on the court. Both guards have the ability to kill opposing defenses at anytime, but they also have the ability to kill Florida. They are streaky shooters, but even if their shots aren’t falling they will continue to pull.
I gaurantee at some point on Saturday that you see either Walker or Boynton go four or five trips looking like they couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean and then they take some shot with 28 seconds on the shot clock from 24 feet and it goes down. It happens every game.
Neither Walker nor Boynton are real distributors and because of that their offense is forced to go through someone else and that is senior Chandler Parsons (6-10, 218). Early in the year I got sick and tired of watching Florida and seeing Parsons on the supposive “Star Watch”. But, now I’m more of a believer. He isn’t a star, but he is their glue guy.
At 6-10, Parsons is a very versatile player. For his size he lacks a real inside presence, but he does have the ability to rebound it, shoot it and distribute it. He leads the team in both assists (3.6) and rebounds (7.7) and is fourth on the team in scoring with 11.0 points. He is also another threat from behind the arc for the Gators as he has knocked down 30 threes while shooting 39-percent.
He missed the LSU game with a deep thigh bruise but returned against Georgia on Thursday. The senior saw 30 minutes off the bench, finishing with 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
When this Florida team plays it’s best basketball they get their post guys involved. When they don’t, they rely way too much on the effectiveness of Walker and Boynton. Both are good players, but when they try to do it all by themselves Florida is a lot easier to beat.
They have some talent underneath and their best big is senior Vernon Macklin (6-10, 245). The transfer from Georgetown is good and needs the rock. He’s long and he has a multitude of post moves at the rim.
UK has struggled defending underneath against the likes of Georgia’s Trey Thompkinsm, Alabama’s Jamychal Green and others. Macklin is not as versatile as Thompkins or as strong as Green, but he may be the best pure post scorer of the bunch.
He is third on the team in scoring with 11.3 points-per-game and is second in rebounding at 6.0. But, the most impressive stat is the fact that he is shooting 57-percent from the floor. Last year he shot 61-percent.
When the Gators get him the ball in the post, good things happen. When they don’t, they become way too reliant on perimeter shooting and if their shots aren’t falling, they are much more susceptible.
Oh, and when talking about Florida you can’t forget the former Predator lookalike in senior Alex Tyus (6-8, 220). Sorry ladies, but earlier this year Tyus cut off his luscious dreadlocks. He is the garbage guy for Florida and averages 8.7 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Overall, the Gators are one of the better rebounding teams in the SEC, with 41.7 per game. Kentucky ranks right behind them with 41.3, which ranks fifth. If the Wildcats get beat on the glass, it is going to be tough for them to come away with a win. They have outrebounded 20 of 26 opponents this season. UK has to make it 20 of 27.
This is a good Florida team. This is a team that has improved throughout the season and they are starting to grow on me. A lot of times I believe that Billy Donovan’s teams are soft. I thought that was the case again this year. But, this is a veteran team and if all of their players get involved, they are tough to beat.
Can Kentucky get a victory? Yes. Will they? Even at home, I think this is going to be a tough one for the ‘Cats. This Florida squad is an impressive 7-1 on the road, their lone loss at Mississippi State. Depth-wise, these two teams are very similar. However, Florida has a little more depth in the frontcourt than the ‘Cats do and once again foul trouble could be a major issue for John Calipari’s squad. Because of that, look for them to establish Macklin and Tyus underneath to get Josh Harrellson and Terrence Jones into foul trouble.
On the other end of the court, Brandon Knight absolutely destroyed Erving Walker, with 24 points. Don’t expect that match-up to change, so Knight should again have a big game and because of that the Wildcats need to keep the ball in his hands.
The Gators have already clinched at least a share of the SEC East title. But, motivation is still there because it’s Kentucky and because the overall SEC Regular Season title is still up for grabs.
But, we all know that Kentucky at home is a completely different team. They have won 32 strait at home and John Calipari has never lost at Rupp Arena as head coach of the ‘Cats. Plus the Gators will be less than 48 hours removed from a very physical battle against Georgia on Thursday night. In the win over the Bulldogs, they trailed by 11 in the first half, but utilized the press to score 23 points off of 13 Georgia turnovers to get the win.
When a team is an skitzophrenic as the Wildcats are, it’s really tough to make a prediction. How do you look so good at home and then as soft as soft bake cookies on the road. Makes no sense. It’s all mental for this team.
In this one, they will have to prove that they can win a close one at home. I think they do and I hope they don’t make me regret this pick because Florida is playing good basketball right now.
Kentucky 72, Florida 70