It's been a tough season for the Kentucky Wildcats thus far, but don't expect them to slow down during the final stretch run.
Even after Saturday's crushing loss, the Cats are still one game ahead of Texas A&M, South Carolina and LSU for first place in the SEC standings with four games remaining. The Cats finish the regular season with the Tide, at Vanderbilt and Florida before hosting LSU, so why it won't be easy, winning the SEC crown is very much within reach for UK.
They can take a big step towards making that happen with a sweep of Bama by winning Tuesday night, but don't expect the Tide to make that easy. They're very much in the running for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, but Saturday's loss at home to Mississippi State severely damaged those hopes.
But the Tide come into this matchup boasting a record of 4-2 against top-25 teams this season. The Tide defeated then-No. 20 Wichita State (64-60) on Nov. 27, then-No. 17 Notre Dame (74-73) on Nov. 29, then-No. 19 South Carolina (73-50) on Jan. 13 and then-No. 15 Texas A&M (63-62) on Feb. 10. Two of those teams are still in the top 25, and Bama's four top-25 victories leads the SEC.
All of Bama's success this season has come in large part because of senior guard Retin Obasohan. Against SEC competition, Obasohan is averaging 19.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game, while shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and 37.0 percent from beyond the arc through 14 league games. He enters Tuesday's game ranking fourth in scoring average, fifth in field-goal percentage and tied for sixth in steals per game. He has nine games of 20 or more points vs. SEC teams and has scored in double figures in all but one game in conference play.
But don't sleep on sharpshooter Riley Norris. The senior forward tied a school record with eight three-pointers and scored a career-high 27 points in a win over then-No. 19 South Carolina on Jan. 13. During SEC play, Norris leads the team in rebounds per game (6.3) and three-point field goal percentage (.415) while ranking third in scoring average 9.6 points per game.
Norris is now in the starting lineup as Bama has been using a more tradition two-guard, three-forward lineup that now has sophomore guard Justin Coleman coming off the bench as a nice spark. Over his last six games, Coleman has been averaging 10.5 points and 3.0 assists per game, while shooting 42.3 percent from beyond the arc (11-of-26). He enters Tuesday’s ranking fifth the SEC and ranks eighth in the nation in free throw percentage (.889), having missed just six free throws the entire season (64-of-72).
Junior forward Shannon Hale is averaging 12.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, and he's hit the 20-point mark twice in his past six games. That includes this past Saturday's 22-point effort in the loss to Mississippi State.
This won't be an easy game for the Cats, but it's one they should be able to come out of with a victory. Here is everything you'll need to watch and follow this SEC matchup.
When: Tuesday, Feb 23, 2016
Location: Rupp Arena
Game Time: 7 p.m. ET
Announcers: Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Sean Farnham (analyst) and Shannon Spake (sideline) will be on the call.
Online Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: UK Radio Network (Tom Leach, Mike Pratt)
Odds: UK is a 13-point favorite, per Vegas Insider.
Projected Bama Starters
#32 G - Retin Obasohan, 6-2, 210 lbs
#4 G - Arthur Edwards, 6-6, 210 lbs
#1 F - Riley Norris, 6-7, 201 lbs
#3 F - Michael Kessens, 6-9, 228 lbs
#10 F - Jimmie Taylor, 6-10, 248 lbs
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs
#4 G - Charles Matthews, 6-6, 189 lbs
#15 F - Isaac Humphries, 7-0, 260 lbs
#00 F - Marcus Lee, 6-9, 224 lbs
My Prediction: This is going to be an ugly game thanks to Alabama loving to muddy games up, but also because UK is dealing with too many injuries to operate as effectively as they have in recent weeks. This is a game UK badly needs to win, but even it's not a given as banged up as they are right now.
Still, the Cats do just enough to grind out a win thanks to big games by Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray carrying the offense. I'm also expecting a good game from Marcus Lee as he helps make up for the losses of Derek Willis and Alex Poythress in the paint.
Final Score: Kentucky 69, Alabama 61