Thinking about the Rebels reminds me of the frustration of losing that game down in Oxford. Ole Miss had an 11 point lead midway through the second half, but Kentucky gradually closed that gap until the 'Cats took a 1-point lead with 1:21 left to go on a made Terrence Jones free throw. Trevor Gaskins then missed a shot, and Kentucky had the ball with 55 seconds left. The Wildcats ran down the clock until a desperation heave by Liggins missed, giving the Rebels the ball. They drove the ball over half court and called a timeout with 10 seconds left. with 3 seconds left, Chris Warren nailed a 3-point jumper to give the final margin of 2 points, a 71-69 Ole Miss victory.
What cost Kentucky that game, as much as anything, was uncharacteristic looseness with the basketball. In the Ole Miss game, Kentucky turned the ball over a total of 18 times, representing a turnover % of 26%, the highest turnover percentage of the year and one of only 5 times all year Kentucky turned the ball over more than 20% of possessions.Here's a look at the Four Factors for that game, just to refresh your memory:
You see that UK outshot the Rebels, but they lost every other one of the Four Factors statistical categories by a significant margin. Despite that, Kentucky still only lost by two, which shows you the importance of shooting in the overall scheme of things.
Kentucky will not be playing in the hostile Tad Pad where the Rebels managed a narrow victory, but in a Georgia Dome loaded with Wildcat fans. That should provide a much friendlier environment for this Kentucky team, and hopefully they will display some of the toughness they showed in sweeping the Tennessee Volunteers and winning five out of their last six games.
Looking down the bracket
I'm not anticipating a win here, just taking a look at what Kentucky faces if they do manage to beat the Rebels. Kentucky will be taking on the winner of the Georgia Bulldogs versus the Alabama Crimson Tide game. Georgia easily handled the Auburn Tigers in an earlier game today, and the Alabama - Georgia game looks like a very important one for the Crimson Tide. I think that Georgia is in the NCAA tournament now no matter what with a #39 RPI and #42 SOS.
Alabama, on the other hand, needs a quality win to get in, and Georgia is just the ticket. Beat Georgia, and I think the Tide are firmly in, although they may be in right now. But they really need this next game, and I don't think the Dawgs need it quite as badly. I am thinking that Alabama will be waiting for the winner of the Kentucky-Ole Miss contest.
Implications for Kentucky
Kentucky is now a #4 seed by almost every estimation, but if they lose again to Ole Miss, arguably the second-worst loss so far for UK, it would likely throw them down to a #5 seed, depending on what happens to the Kansas St. Wildcats and the UNLV Rebels, among others.
If Kentucky manages to defeat either the Tide or the Dawgs, I think they are a 4 seed no matter what happens in the final. So far, I still don't think a win in the final, even against Florida Gators, automatically moves UK to the 3 line, although it would certainly knock Florida out of a #3 seed and depending on what happens elsewhere, could just flip the two teams. Kentucky and Florida would be separated by only one win, and Kentucky has played by far the more difficult schedule.
The #3 seed is certainly more desirable, because it means that UK will have to face the #2 seed before the #1, which would not happen until the regional final. A four seed gets the #1, assuming form holds, in the regional semis (Sweet 16). Plus, the potential 4-5 matchup in the second round is a very tough one, placing UK against such likely foes as Kansas St., the Arizona Wildcats, Connecticut Huskies, or the West Virgina Mountaineers, 'Cat killers of last year.
Of course, these could all be different, and I am using Joe Lunardi's bracketology as the source of likely seeds. Obviously, the conference tournaments will have a lot to do with who goes where, and we'll get a clearer picture as we approach Sunday.