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The Kentucky Wildcats need the SEC Tournament

In spite of what Cal thinks, the tournament in St. Louis could provide critical experience for young Cats.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

John Calipari doesn’t hide his feelings about conference tournaments.

His yearly lamentations of the SEC tournament is part of the Coach Cal Drinking Game: If Cal complains about conference tournaments, drink.

This year is no exception:

You know I can’t stand (conference) tournaments,” Calipari said. “I’m not a big proponent of playing three or four days in a row here at the end of the year. We already have a league champ or will have one. What are we doing this for? So that’s me. But our fans at Kentucky love this tournament. They love it, so we go and try to play as well as we can for our fans but the only thing we’ll use this weekend us for the next weekend. That’s it. I’m not a big conference tournament guy. Never have been. Never was at UMass and I never was at Memphis. The (NCAA) tournament is the real one.

Normally I acquiesce to our venerable coach and tow the party line of “In Cal We Trust” but I think he is way off base here.

If there’s one thing we have learned about this team it’s this: they can lose focus quicker than any group in Cal’s tenure. This is one of the reasons why John Calipari is still scrimmaging in March. Normally he stops scrimmaging during conference play so he can focus on teaching and refining. But with this current team, it’s the only way to maintain their focus.

He didn’t scrimmage leading up to the Florida game, and they got hammered.

With the 2017-18 Wildcats, the more game play the better.

We all know that in the end winning the SEC tournament doesn’t matter a hill of beans. Kentucky has won the tournament in the past and it didn’t affect their seeding one bit (most notably in 2016).

But it matters more this season because these Cats need all the games they can handle heading into the NCAA Tournament and all the practice that comes with it. They need to experience what it is to be in a do-or-die situation on a neutral court going against a team in the same circumstances.

These guys still need to figure out how to play with Nick Richards and Hamidou Diallo on the court. Kevin Knox still needs to understand that Kentucky needs him to be an alpha dog for 40 minutes a game. One more week of practice and experience is the right way to go.

And with the uncertainty surrounding the availability of Jarred Vanderbilt, this team will have to figure out a new lineup going forward.

There have been teams in the past that didn’t need the SEC Tournament. 2012 didn’t need it, 2015 didn’t need it, and I really don’t think last year’s team needed it.

But it’s hard to argue that it didn’t benefit Brandon Knight’s Final Four run. It’s hard to argue that it didn’t ignite the 2014 run to the national title. Those teams were sparked by their strong showings in the SEC Tournament.

The 2011 team won it while the 2014 team fell one shot shy of beating a Florida team that went undefeated in the conference for the title.

If these Cats can make it to Sunday I think their confidence will skyrocket and the NCAA Tournament will be ripe for the picking. And beating Missouri and Auburn in the process will probably boost them at least one more seed line.

It’s rare that I type this but Cal is wrong.