Kentucky wins the SEC. That's the media pick. No, not the Men's Basketball program, the Women's. That's right, UK Hoops is slated by the media covering the SEC to win the SEC. Not Tennessee, Kentucky. After following from behind since the inception of NCAA Women's Basketball to our neighbors to the South, Kentucky is now favored to win the conference. But don't look for them to stop there. Matthew Mitchell has bigger and better plans for this group of ultra-talented young ladies. And this year the Lady Vols are going to have to watch from behind for a change.
Has the landscape changed that much in Knoxville? It's truly hard to tell. The Vols have had more than their fair share of bad news in the last few years, from Bruce Pearl's less than auspicious exit, to the Lane Kiffin debacle, to Pat Summitt being basically moved into a position as Head Coach Emeritus and being replaced by one of her assistants Holly Warlick. The change from Summitt to Warlick should have been a seamless one since Warlick has been by her side for the last 28 years. Unfortunately that didn't go exactly as planned, due to the now pending lawsuit from Deborah Jennings against Tennessee and AD Dave Hart. And if that wasn't enough, Tennessee now has the same unhappy fanbase that exists at UK when it comes to their new Head Football Coach Derek Dooley.
But enough about our friends singing the blues, lets talk about our BLUE.
Is this the year Kentucky takes the next step? I think so. After 2 Elite Eights in three years, this squad of UK Hoops talent is more than capable of putting UK in the Final Four, and even the Finals. And if they catch a break here and there, they just might add one of their own NCAA Championship Banners in Lexington. Matthew Mitchell sits in a very comfortable position having won only the second SEC Championship ever in Lexington for the women, and the first since 1982. He has now recruited three stellar classes back to back (sound familiar?) and has the talent and balance that this team can play big, they can play fast, or they can play both. This will make the third year also that Mitchell will be running his "40 Minutes of Dread" defense and the opposition is not looking forward to it.
In years past, Mitchell had components missing. No more. He has role players, McDonalds AA's, size and speed, defensive capabilities and shooters. Early on the Women will be tested and tested hard. They meet a Baylor squad that was 40-0 last year, and will this year be one of the teams standing between UK and An NCAA Champ. Mitchell was somewhat careful with his words when discussing Baylor and their WNBA 1st Round pick Brittney Griner,
That will be a stern test early in the season and everybody, I think, is familiar with the season they had last year, 40-0, and I'm certain they have to be the No. 1 pick now nationally. Coach (Kim) Mulkey and all those players and notably Brittney Griner certainly have a strong challenge. Certainly that's helped them going in the season and we know there is a sense of urgency because we have a tough test looming.
Should the ladies somehow get past Baylor unscathed, it won't get any easier. The annual UL-UK game is in
Lexington Louisville this year, which will will not help, but the SEC Women's schedule is never an easy one, and UK again this year faces Middle Tennessee State, and they have been a thorn in the side of UK the last couple of years themselves. Make no mistake, if Mitchell's team makes it to the NCAA Finals, they will earn every point, because now they have a target on themselves.
Athlon(#9) and Lindy's(#7) both have the women ranked in the Top 10, so this year they go from being the hunters to being the hunted. UK's stiffest competition in the SEC should still be coming out of Tennessee, and Warlick is not about to take her foot off the gas now that she is in the driver's seat in Knoxville. So strap yourselves in, we will have 16 opportunities to watch the women this season on TV, and The John Calipari Snow won't be all we see.
It's only my personal opinion, but I can see great things from this group. They will be more versatile than any team in UK history, and they are ready. Mitchell has all the pieces he needs. This is gonna be fun folks, really fun.