After falling to the Cards on Saturday, John Calipari’s Wildcats dropped to 1-6 on the season and any hopes of playing in the 2021 NCAA tournament are quickly fading.
Some possible good news?
Aside from the SEC/Big 12 Challenge against Texas in late January, Non-conference play is officially over and UK can turn the page to the next portion of their season.
After the postponement of the South Carolina game, next up for Kentucky will be traveling to take on the 5-3 Mississippi State Bulldogs. The game is scheduled to tip-off Saturday at 6:00 PM on the SEC Network.
After losing to Louisville for just the third time in 14 matchups — John Calipari used his opportunity in the post game press conference to remind everyone just how difficult this year’s schedule has been.
“You have to play games you can win to build confidence. This was the stupidest schedule I’ve ever put together, and I’d like to smack myself in the mouth,” Calipari said after the game. “Listen – we should’ve played games up front that we had a chance to win. Four, five of them, then play four or five of the others. Not eight hard games, and we still have Texas left, who’s like tenth in the country. Think about it. Now, am I doing that to me or to these kids? It was to these kids. It was just dumb.”
Be that as it may — Calipari won’t be able to use the difficult opponent excuse moving forward, because the Southeastern Conference isn’t exactly littered with top-tier talent.
Mississippi State is currently 5-3 but will get tested on Wednesday night when they travel to Athens to play an undefeated Georgia team.
So far they haven’t faired very well against the better competition on their schedule. The Bulldogs losses came against Clemson, Liberty and a double OT defeat against Dayton.
Ben Howland has a pair of legitimate sophomore scoring threats that the Cats will have to contain if they want to avoid their unfashionable seventh straight loss.
The guard duo of DJ Stewart Jr and Iverson Molinar pour in an average of over 35 points per game between them. Stewart has converted 17 of his 33 three pointers so far this season and can light it up from deep.
It goes without saying that Kentucky avoiding another loss will have more to do with their play than the play of their opponent.
Kentucky hasn’t scored more than 64 points since their opening game rout of Morehead State when they scored 81.
Their consistent struggle to put the ball in the basket have been mind-boggling at times and clearly causing frustration from both fans and players.
Calipari made mentioned several times after the Louisville game that despite the loss, he enjoyed coaching the game because there wasn’t any distractions. The comment was possibly calling attention to last week’s Cam’Ron Fletcher situation, but either way, maybe it is an encouraging sign, that at least from the head coach’s point of view, team morale may be improving.
No matter how you slice it, UK is just a few inches away from having two additional wins in their resume. Oliver Sarr’s jump shots in the final seconds of the Notre Dame and Louisville games both could have easily fallen.
But they didn’t fall and now the Cats have no choice but to claw for their tournament life.
This is uncharted territory for just about everyone involved. Not many fans, players or coaches affiliated with University of Kentucky basketball have dealt with adversity of this magnitude.
There is still hope that UK can figure things out quickly and make an impressive run through the conference play.
But it has to start on Saturday with beating Mississippi State. A seventh straight loss would be devastating to the idea of the Cats getting an at-large bid to the dance.
Game: Kentucky Wildcats vs Mississippi State Bulldogs
Location: Humphrey Coliseum — Starkville, Mississippi
Date: Saturday, January 2nd
Start Time: 6:00 pm EST
TV Channel: SEC Network
Online Stream: WatchESPN
Radio: UK Sports Network.
Odds: No line has been set, but ESPN’s matchup predictor gives MSU a 60% chance at victory. KenPom gives the Cats a 55% chance of winning.
Early Prediction: KenPom projects a 67-66 win for Kentucky.