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Kentucky Basketball: Alabama, Vanderbilt, and the Wildcats' SEC Schedule

I didn't see the game, but apparently the Alabama Crimson Tide were beaten near-senseless by the Vanderbilt Commodores in Tuscaloosa last night, and the final score is not indicative of the beat-down they suffered. That is interesting news on two possible fronts.

First, the Tide are going to come into Rupp Arena with a chip on their shoulder. That in and of itself is not an ideal situation, but if Kentucky brings their best game, Alabama should not be able to pull off the upset. Rupp Arena is a tough place to play under the best of conditions, and while I expect Anthony Grant and his charges to be fully engaged at Rupp, the short turnaround probably works against them.

Second, how good is Vanderbilt? Since losing embarrassingly to the Indiana St. Sycamores a little over a month ago, the Commodores have ripped off 8 straight wins, two of them against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy's top 25, both on the road.

The SEC race has just begun to heat up, and Vanderbilt is letting everyone know that the early-season swoon is a thing of the past. I know the 'Cats looked really good against the young Arkansas Razorbacks, but they are about to be tested by the angry Tide, and then go on a two-game road trip.

I must add, though, that if Calipari created this schedule mostly on his own, it is genius. Nobody could create a more favorable early schedule while still figuring in some challenges. Consider this:

Date UK rnk Opp Rnk Team Result/proj. Pace Win prob. Loc Overall Conference
Sat Jan 7 3 130 South Carolina W, 79-64 65 Home 15-1 1-0
Wed Jan 11 4 196 Auburn W, 68-53 58 Away 16-1 2-0
Sat Jan 14 5 102 Tennessee W, 65-62 67 Away 17-1 3-0
Tue Jan 17 5 86 Arkansas W, 86-63 71 Home 18-1 4-0
Sat Jan 21
18 Alabama W, 67-58 65 81% Home
Tue Jan 24
139 Georgia W, 72-59 64 89% Away
Sat Jan 28
81 Louisiana St. W, 69-60 68 81% Away
Tue Jan 31
102 Tennessee W, 75-57 66 95% Home
Sat Feb 4
130 South Carolina W, 72-59 63 89% Away
Tue Feb 7
11 Florida W, 79-71 68 75% Home
Sat Feb 11
31 Vanderbilt W, 71-67 68 64% Away
Sat Feb 18
116 Mississippi W, 76-56 69 95% Home
Tue Feb 21
62 Mississippi St. W, 75-67 68 77% Away
Sat Feb 25
31 Vanderbilt W, 75-64 68 85% Home
Thu Mar 1
139 Georgia W, 76-55 64 96% Home
Sun Mar 4
11 Florida L, 76-75 68 49% Away

This is our SEC schedule. The games highlighted are the tough ones. We only have one really challenging game in the first nine games of the season. One.

That means that the back half is lo... lo... loaded with difficult contests against the best in the SEC... BUT, this is the point at which you would expect Kentucky, which has a much higher ceiling (in my opinion) than any other SEC team to be rising toward peak effectiveness. If I were Calipari with a freshman-dominated team, this is exactly how I would plan a schedule.

I assume this is more just good fortune than anything else, but I can't really blame opposing conspiracy theorist from seeing something nefarious in here by the SEC. The theory would go that the SEC wants to win a championship, they knew Kentucky was by far the best team and a top contender, so they therefore made them a very favorable schedule including no short turn-around games.

Well, that certainly fits the observed fact of the favorable schedule, but it is more likely happy coincidence than something nefarious. I'm sure there will be some Cal-haters who will suggest that it is a conspiracy by Calipari and the SEC to screw everyone else and pave the way for a UK national championship, because, you know, Calipari is THE DEVIL.

If Calipari did sell the SEC on this idea, I'd just like to shake his hand. Anyone that convincing deserves to come out on top.