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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: This Team Needs the NCAA Tournament

SEC road games stink. SEC home games stink. Bring on the neutral court.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A win is a win. I’m very happy with the record of the Kentucky Wildcats. They are 23-5 with a chance to essentially lock up a two seed for the NCAA tournament if they can beat the visiting Florida Gators on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM in Rupp Arena.

But the dirty secret is that the ‘Cats have been lackluster for the most part in SEC play. While they boast a gaudy 13-2 record and they still are in great position to win the regular season title, one has to admit that watching these games have been a labor of love at times.

The naysayers and the critics love to pounce on the margin of victory in the SEC. Granted, the margin of victory for UK in SEC road games hasn’t been great: +13, +6, +7, -2, -22, +9, +5, +10. Yikes. That gives UK an average margin of victory of +3.25 in the SEC.

If you factor in UK’s other road game at Louisville (-3), then the overall margin of victory on the road falls to an underwhelming +2.875. Road Warriors these ‘Cats are not.

Indeed, the road has not been kind. Even the players have suffered road woes. Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, and Isaiah Briscoe, arguably UK’s four best players, suffer from the SEC road blues. While Monk seems inhuman at times at home and on a neutral court, he is downright average on the road. There is a big difference between Malik Monk and Road Monk.

Kentucky is +33 in margin of victory at home against SEC teams as well as UCLA (-3) and Kansas (-6), so that’s where it needs to be for the most part. While the losses to the Bruins and the Jayhawks were disappointing, the ‘Cats pretty much rolled every other Power Five opponent at Rupp. That bodes well for the game versus Florida on Saturday.

Here is the good news heading into the tournament, which is played neither at Rupp nor on the road in the sense of a true road game, Kentucky has been absolutely dominant in neutral court games this season.

They are 4-0 in neutral court games, including wins over Michigan State and North Carolina. Kentucky’s average margin of victory is +23.25. Kentucky blasted Michigan State 69-48, they dismantled Arizona State 115-69, they blitzed Hofstra 96-73, and they beat North Carolina in the game of the year 103-100.

Kentucky’s most important players have been fantastic in neutral court games as well. Malik Monk is averaging 28.25 points per game on the road. De’Aaron Fox’s assist to turnover ratio is much better in neutral court games. Isaiah Briscoe is scoring at a higher clip in neutral court games. Bam Adebayo has been better scoring and grabbing boards in a neutral court setting.

For whatever reason, UK seems to "check out" in true SEC road games. Maybe it’s because it’s difficult to get hyped for a 9:00 PM game against, Vanderbilt, Missouri, and Tennessee. Maybe it’s because the lackluster opponent drags them down to a lower level of play. I do think the SEC road officiating has been extremely detrimental to this team. Because of the erratic nature of the officiating, the games slow to a crawl and UK is forced to slog through halfcourt sets which isn’t the strength of this team.

There is something to say in regards to the energy level at home, on the road, on a neutral court, and the correlation of officiating in those respective games.

The NCAA will assign their best officials when it comes to the tournament. The SEC will want their best officials for the SEC tournament as well. This will make a big difference for Kentucky in the coming month.

While I’m not exactly enthusiastic about this Kentucky team’s recent performances, I do feel confident that this group will take it to another level when it comes to a lose and done game situation.

There are only three SEC regular season games remaining for the ‘Cats. I could see Kentucky going 3-0, 2-1, or even 1-2 if they drop games to Florida and at Texas A&M. I am inclined to think 3-0 is the most likely scenario. If they can get through this stretch unscathed, a one seed in the SEC tournament and a two seed in the NCAA tournament may be the fuel these guys need to finally put together a run to end the season.