The postseason is finally upon us and the proving ground in March couldn't be more important for the Kentucky Wildcats. A much ballyhooed recruiting class and a big bounce-back from the disappointment of the 2013 season have fallen short thus far. But that was the regular season. Now the 'Cats have a chance to redeem themselves and prove that they are as good as advertised many months ago.
Here is the SEC tournament bracket in all of its glory:
Here is a look at the records of the teams in the tournament in ascending order:
14 Missippi State Bulldogs- 13-18 (3-15)
13 South Carolina Gamecocks- 12-19 (5-13)
12 Aubrun Tigers- 14-15 (6-12)
11 Vanderbilt Commodores- 15-15 (7-11)
10 Alabama Crimson Tide- 13-18 (7-11)
9 Texas A&M Aggies- 17-14 (8-10)
8 Missouri Tigers- 21-10 (9-9)
7 LSU Tigers- 18-12 (9-9)
6 Ole Miss Rebels- 18-13 (9-9)
5 Arkansas Razorbacks*- 21-10 (10-8)
4 Tennessee Volunteers*- 20-11 (11-7)
3 Georgia Bulldogs- 18-12 (12-6)
2 Kentucky Wildcats*- 22-9 (12-6)
1 Florida Gators*- 29-2 (18-0)
Florida's Tournament to Lose?
The Gators barrelled through the SEC with nary a challenge. They were put to the test a few times, once from Kentucky in Lexington, at Arkansas, at Vanderbilt and at Auburn, but they were darn near unstoppable in Gainesville. They last lost way back on December 2nd on the road at UConn. Ever since then they have been perfect, winning 23 straight games.
Patric Young and Scotty Wilbiken, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, are the unquestioned senior leaders and Billy Donovan, the reigning SEC Coach of the Year, has been down this road before back in 2006 and 2007. The Gators present a formidable test for any team that they will face. They are the heavy favorites to win the SEC tournament and look like the number one overall seed heading into the Big Dance.
Their first game will be against either #9 Texas A&M or #8 Missouri Tigers on Friday at 1:00 PM.
Dark Horse Contender?
The Tennessee Volunteers were a team expected to possibly break into the top 25 this season but they stumbled along the way despite having NBA caliber players in Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McCrae. Jeronne Maymon adds beef down low with Stokes, forming one of the more intimidating front courts in the conference.
While the Vols found it rough going to start conference competition, they have been playing the best basketball down the stretch. They have reeled off four straight games and they capped off their regular season with a complete beat down of the Missouri Tigers 72-45, essentially crushing the NCAA Tournament dreams of Frank Haith's squad.
The Vols have won their last four games by an average margin of victory of 25 points. They look to be the most dangerous team not named Florida or Kentucky.
Is it Now or Never for the Wildcats?
Kentucky limps into the tournament having lost four out of their last seven games. It is true that two of those games were against Florida- one was close, the one in Gainesville was not so close- but losing to Arkansas at home and to South Carolina on the road has left little faith in Kentucky.
It's not that the team lacks individual talent; Julius Randle was named First Team All SEC, All SEC Freshman Team, as well as the SEC Freshman of the Year, James Young was named Second Team All SEC as well as All SEC Freshman Team, and Willie Cauley-Stein was named to the All SEC Defensive Team.
All of the individual accolades are nice and they are deserved, but they 'Cats have struggled to put it all together and play team basketball. The offense began its downward trend after scoring 84 points at Ole Miss on February 18th. Since then, the 'Cats are averaging 66.2 points per game, which is down an entire 10 points from the season average of 76.2 points per game. The offense devolved from the DDMO to the famously coined DDFHO (hat-tip Glenn Logan).
Whatever the problem was, whether it was defenses adjusting, a poor shooting streak, or players that just couldn't (or wouldn't) run the offense, coach John Calipari stated that he made a mysterious tweak to the offense at practice on Sunday and now this team is ready to go. The excitement is back, and all of the Basketball Bennies will know the adjustment when they see it on Friday. So he says.
Right now the 'Cats are a solid six or seven seed depending on which bracket you look at and can reach as high as four if they make it to the conference championship game in convincing fashion. But the road will not be easy. The Wildcats could face the LSU Tigers for the third time in their first tournament game. The Tigers have been a terrible match up for the WIldcats this season. The good news is that Florida and Tennessee are on the other side of the bracket, so Kentucky would not face them until the championship game. If the 'Cats can get through a probable match up with LSU, then I like their chances of playing on Sunday.
Is it now or never for the Wildcats? If it's not, then it's getting to be Threat Level Midnight.