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Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: SEC Tournament Quarterfinal Edition

A desperate Alabama team faces a Kentucky team returning to full health with the return of Reid Travis tonight in the SECT quarterfinals. Kentucky is out to avenge the regular season loss, and the Tide is fighting for their NCAA lives.

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NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and welcome to the Friday Morning Quickies. I’ll be your host today, as I was unavailable for my normal Tuesday slot.

Tonight, the Wildcats open play (for them, that is) in the 2019 SEC Tournament quarterfinal round. Our opponent will be the Alabama Crimson Tide, to whom we owe a debt of defeat since we lost to them in a heartbreaker back on January 5th.

Alabama comes into this game desperately needing a win. After finishing 8-10 in conference and losing their last three games of the regular season before defeating Ole Miss in the tournament, the Tide are, in my view, on the outside looking in with respect to the NCAA Tournament. Beating Kentucky could get them in – apparently it’s not all that rare for sub-.500 teams to get in, and Alabama themselves managed it just last season – but it’s not exactly the catbird seat.

Ken Pomeroy has Kentucky at 81% to win this game, and statistically, you can easily see why. UK is #1 in defensive efficiency in the league by a long way, and although Alabama is 5th, they allow eight more points per 100 possessions (league games) than UK, and score ten fewer points.

Adding to that, Kentucky will be back to some semblance of their former strength with the return of Reid Travis to action. We have sorely missed Travis in a lot of small but important ways that don’t show up in the stat sheet – being in the right place on offense and defense, setting proper screens, making good passes out of and into the post – and those little things really add up. Kentucky hasn’t looked anything like their best with him out.

I don’t expect Travis to start or to play majority minutes. Calipari likes to ease his injured guys back into the rotation gently. But Travis is a full-grown adult who will play the game the right way for whatever time he’s in there, so it can be nothing but an unalloyed “good thing” having him back.

Alabama will have the advantage of having a game under their belt, and that helps. Teams that have played games before facing an opponent with a bye often get off to better starts, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that tonight. Whether the Tide can sustain that effort for 40 minutes, assuming Kentucky comes to play, is another question.

Regardless, it was weird not having a game on Tuesday for literally the first time this year. That doesn’t happen often – most years we have occasional league games on Wednesday, Sunday, or even Thursday – but not this year.

If Kentucky does manage the win, and the chalk holds form, we’ll be facing Tennessee for the third time on Saturday. The rubber match. I hope it happens.

Tweet of the Morning

Za’Darius Smith recently signed a huge $66 million dollar deal with the Green Bay Packers.

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