The Kentucky Wildcats seem to have turned a corner and have looked strong in their last two appearances on the hardwood.
Coming off of back-to-back wins against ACC foes North Carolina and Louisville, the Wildcats begin SEC play on Saturday as they travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Kentucky currently sits at 10-2, with their losses coming to No. 1 Duke and Seton Hall. Since that loss against Seton Hall, something seems to have changed with the Wildcats. With the emergence of Ashton Hagans at point guard, the energy of the team has a different feel and the group seems to be clicking more and more with each outing.
Alabama has a record of 9-3. Their best wins have been against a reeling Arizona team and Wichita State. The Crimson Tide have lost to the Northeastern Huskies, the UCF Knights, and the Georgia State Panthers. After riding Colin Sexton to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2017-2018, it seems that Alabama has taken a large step back this season.
To open SEC play, the roundtable at A Sea of Blue has been reconvened to gather thoughts and predictions from the staff.
While I was not ready to mail in the season, I fully expected this team to be on the slow track to improvement. But after Camp Cal, it seems the Wildcats took a giant step forward toward being who we all know they can be. Are they there yet? No. But I do think they are now ready to take on their tough SEC slate.
Alabama really seems to be struggling under Avery Johnson this year. Colin Sexton is gone, and while he has been good, Kira Lewis has not been enough for the Crimson Tide to make any strides toward competing in the SEC.
Given Kentucky’s outstanding performance in a hostile environment in Louisville last week, I see no reason why they could not play well in Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. Outside of Lewis, Bama does not shoot the ball particularly well. However, they do defend well.
Ultimately, I see this as a confidence builder for the Wildcats, and I think they win by double digits.
Prediction: Kentucky 84, Alabama 71
The basketball Cats are starting to hit their stride after back-to-back big wins over UNC and on the road at Louisville. Now the Cats are getting ready to start SEC play on the road at Alabama.
The Tide come into this one on a four-game winning streak with an overall record of 9-3. So far, they have beaten teams that you wouldn’t expect but they have also lost to teams that they are better than.
However, I think Kentucky is on the upward trend and will continue to get better each time they take the floor. They already proved they can handle a hostile environment and I believe they will do it once again on Saturday and the more talented team will walk away with the victory.
Prediction: Kentucky 86, Alabama 68
The Cats are kicking off SEC play on the road this season, and if Kentucky’s dominance over Louisville last weekend is any indication of how UK will handle the pressure, the rest of the SEC better watch out. Kentucky was never able to put away U of L, but the game was never in doubt. I think the Cats will have a similar outing against Alabama on Saturday.
The SEC is loaded with top teams this season, and while the Crimson Tide have victories over the likes of Wichita State and Arizona, neither the Shockers nor the Wildcats are the powerhouse teams we’ve come to expect in past seasons. Alabama is not the same team without Collin Sexton, who’s now in the NBA, and the Tide are a middle-of-the-road opponent in this year’s SEC.
That being said, Kira Lewis Jr. is an impressive freshman who will most likely be occupying quite a bit of Ashton Hagans’ time when the two are on the court. Senior forward Donta Hall will also draw a crowd down low. He logged a double-double in Bama’s last game against Stephen F. Austin.
Alabama could pose a tougher test for the Cats than Louisville, but I still look for UK to come out on top. Cal has his team playing at a high level right now and I expect that to continue. If Tyler Herro plays at the same level he did during the Cats’ battle with the Cards, it’ll be a long afternoon for Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson.
Prediction: Kentucky 81 Alabama 74
Kentucky enters SEC play as hot as anyone in the country. After three straight wins where they dominated the games from the get-go, there’s a lot to feel good about, which is important because the SEC may be tougher than ever before.
Alabama isn’t the scariest team Kentucky will face from the SEC this year, but they’re tough. The Tide finished their non-conference slate a solid 9-3, but all of those losses were to unranked opponents. They also did not defeat a ranked team.
Alabama runs through their point guard Kira Lewis Jr. The five-star recruit leads the Tide with 15 points per game and 3.1 assists per game. He, however, will have to deal with the defense of Ashton Hagans in what may be a “welcome to the SEC” moment.
It will be a hostile environment yet again as Alabama’s fans show up for all of their athletic programs, but Kentucky should be able to lock up Lewis Jr. and keep the Tide at bay to start SEC play 1-0.
Prediction: Kentucky 75 Alabama 56
The Cats ended their non-conference schedule with a bang as they looked great against two really good teams in Louisville and North Carolina. As they open conference play, things are only going to get harder.
Alabama is a talented, experienced team. They’ve had some good battles against Arizona, Wichita State, and UCF. However, with the way the Cats are playing right now, it’s hard to believe that anyone can get in their way. Kentucky comes out and makes a statement on Saturday rolling to their first in-conference victory.
Prediction: Kentucky 74, Alabama 60
After Kentucky’s big win in their first true road game, the Cats will travel to Alabama in what will probably be more of a road atmosphere than what they saw at Louisville. Blue always gets in, but UK will not have near the same representation at Coleman Coliseum that it did in the KFC YUM! Center. In addition to traveling 400 more miles than last week, it’s important that Kentucky stays focused for a 1:00 pm tip. Based off the last two games, there are no indications to suggest they won’t come out ready to play.
It’s becoming very comforting to know that the Cats are basically going to dominate anyone that they play in the paint. Reid Travis and PJ Washington will be a force during conference play and Saturday marks their first opportunity to prove it. Reid Travis is built for the physical schedule in the SEC.
Alabama has a very talented freshman guard in Kira Lewis, Jr. who is averaging 15 points a game. He is partnered with sophomore John Petty who is very streaky and can catch fire from game to game. Contain these two and Kentucky should roll the Tide in Tuscaloosa.
Prediction: Kentucky 84, Alabama 73
With all the buzz regarding Kentucky and Alabama’s football programs, the Wildcats and Crimson Tide still have a very important basketball game to kick off their conference schedules. Even with Kentucky coming off two impressive wins against UNC and in Louisville against the Cardinals, Alabama is sitting strong at 9-3 heading into this weekend’s game in Tuscaloosa.
Kentucky seems to be figuring it out at the right time. There were negatives in both of the last two wins, but they were primarily filled with all positives. The freshman are learning to take initiative and hold their own while the team has been efficient on both sides of the ball.
Some might look over Alabama after they lost Collin Sexton to the NBA Draft, but this Alabama team is still full of weapons. John Petty, Dazon Ingram, and Kira Lewis Jr. are all scoring threats, Avery Johnson Jr. and Riley Norris are solid role players, and Daniel Giddens and Donta Hall are experienced in the front court.
Kentucky needs to be careful in a game like this. They may be feeling good about themselves with their win streak, but this is a game where they need to avoid getting punched in the mouth at all costs. With the SEC this year, every game will count to keep pace in the conference. I think it will be closer than some may think, but I see UK pulling away to get their first win in conference play.
Prediction: Kentucky 75, Alabama 66
The Alabama Crimson Tide have been relatively disappointing this season. Yes, they’re 9-3, but that includes losses to Northeastern, UCF, and Georgia State. They have a few decent wins over Murray State, Arizona, and Penn State, but that’s nothing to write home about. Kentucky is certainly the better team, but you never know what’s going to happen on the road in the SEC.
Bama of course lost star point guard Colin Sexton to the NBA Draft last year, but they returned a lot of talent. Donta Hall is back and he’s a monster down low. He has a high motor and while he doesn’t score a ton, he rebounds and blocks a lot of shots. John Petty also returned and has been okay, but he’s struggled from outside (33.3% from three).
Tevin Mack, Dazon Ingram, Alex Reese, Herbert Jones, and Riley Norris all returned as unspectacular role players. Outside of Hall and Petty, the biggest threat for Bama is Kira Lewis, Jr. Lewis was a one-time Kentucky target, but UK wasn’t interested in bringing him in when he announced he was reclassifying as they already had Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley. But he’s been one of the Crimson Tide’s best players this season averaging 15 points per game and 3.1 assists, while shooting over 40% from three. His three-point shooting has been the most impressive stat so far, as he was seen more as a slasher in high school.
Overall, the Tide aren’t a great basketball team. They’ve won four straight, so they may be getting hot at the right time, but none of their wins have been overly impressive. I think Kentucky is just the better all-around team. Bama will be physical down low, but that shouldn’t be a problem for Reid Travis and PJ Washington.
This game might be somewhat close considering it’s the Cats’ first SEC road game, but I don’t expect it to ever be in doubt.
Prediction: Kentucky 81 Alabama 69