Once again, we'll combine our pregame and game threads for the Kentucky Wildcats vs. Florida Gators contest in the SEC Tournament final game. This probably represents Kentucky's last chance to get a victory against the Gators this season, and I know all of us would like to see the third time pay for all when it comes to the Blue and White.
We have to acknowledge, at this point, that Florida is, and deserves to be the favorite in this contest — Ken Pomeroyfigures Kentucky only 28% to win, but I do think their odds are slightly better given recent play, let's say 40%. Even though we've seen some good basketball from Kentucky lately, we've also got to acknowledge that this UK team's one consistency besides rebounding has been its inconsistency. Florida, on the other hand, plays the game pretty much the same way every time, and that is a big component of their success this season.
For the Gator perspective, be sure and visit SB Nation's Florida community, Alligator Army.
As with the past two games with Florida, the Wildcats must find a way to execute their offense efficiently. Florida is a solid offensive team, but where they really shine is on defense. Florida is allowing only 0.93 points per possession in SEC play, an outstanding number. Compare that to Kentucky, who is only 5th in the league, allowing over 1 point per possession.
Kentucky at times has been very efficient offensively, and in the last two games, they have averaged well over 1.2 points per possession, and have eclipsed that efficiency numerous times this season, particularly early. Conversely, Florida has yet to produce a game over 1.2 points per possession in the SEC Tournament, and has only been that efficient twice during the entire conference season, although they have been pretty close four or five times.
What this means is that unless Kentucky suddenly discovers a heretofore unseen defensive intensity, the Wildcats must try to outscore the Gators by executing their offense better than Florida does. Given the consistent quality of Florida's defense and the fact that not one team has ever managed more than 1.14 points per possession on the Gator D all season long, that would seem to be a steep mountain to climb.
The Gators basically have no weakness that Kentucky can exploit other than rebounding. Florida is a better shooting team from everywhere, although the Wildcats have been very hot from three in the tournament, and that could have a significant impact if it continues. Somehow, Kentucky must solve its free throw shooting and layup problems if they want to beat the Gators, and if that does happen, the Wildcats will be able to win this game.
Florida has proven that they can win with the lead, or come from behind. There is no formula for their success other than to execute at the same level as they have been. If they do so, Kentucky will have to raise their level of play significantly over a much higher-quality team and play a similar game to the LSU victory.
Here are three big things that Kentucky can do to win:
- Keep turnovers down;
- Make free throws;
- Exploit their advantage on the glass.
If Kentucky does all of those things, they will give themselves a chance to win. Good 3-point shooting will also be a major help, but I don't think UK can count on shooting >40% 4 games in a row — the Wildcats haven't done that all season. If I had to pick one other thing I'd like to see, it is for Kentucky to finish their shots around the basket at a high percentage.
I haven't talked about the defense, because this Kentucky team is not going to invent defense overnight — defense is the hardest thing to master in college basketball, and if you haven't brought it with you to this point, you aren't going to find it here. That's why I'm only talking one thing — offend, and offend like crazy.