Almost a month into the New Year, Kentucky is starting to get knee-deep into SEC play.
The Kentucky Wildcats are in their usual spot near the top of the SEC. Coming off a 6-game winning streak, UK is still undefeated in conference play ahead of Saturday’s matchup with South Carolina.
Looking ahead to the rest of UK’s season up to the SEC Tournament, I have chosen a ‘Good, Bad and Ugly’ viewpoint of what we have come to realize, and what we should expect moving forward.
GOOD: Just Win Baby
Throughout the last 13 games left in this season, minus Kansas, 12 of them will be SEC games. As the Wildcats have the upper hand with an impressive 16-2 record and 6-0 mark in conference play, UK is in great shape for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
And it’s not just been a bunch of blowouts either. The young Cats have been getting tested with close games that required them to make big plays in the clutch, which they’ve been doing as though they’re already a veteran team.
Even a close game against a bad team gives the young guys more experience in close games, which they’ll see plenty of come NCAA Tournament time. It helps having Briscoe, Hawkins, Willis & Humphries providing leadership with experience, which has helped out tremendously thus far.
While you’d like to see UK dominate lesser teams more than they have, the Cats have still managed to win, and that’s all that matters right now. With veterans pointing the way, the rest of the conference games should go our way — in a winning fashion.
BAD: Depth Still Unproven
As for most of the season, UK has had just about the same players who do their nightly contributing with high averages in the statistical column. This team that is without a doubt stacked with talent, but is consistently only about four players deep. Those four being De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, and Isaiah Briscoe.
We can pretty much guarantee those four leading UK every night they step foot on the court. But will 4 carry UK to Phoenix for #9 to hang in the banners of Rupp?
Not so likely.
The only thing holding this team from hitting its max potential is not having a more established rotation. You need everyone to be on the same page by equally contributing on a nightly basis if we want to see that championship trophy come back home to Lexington.
Coach Cal should be desperately looking for the "reinforcements" or that "second platoon" to come in and relieve the starters of their duties as UK did so in 2014. As the whole nation was so fortunate to have witnessed the last time UKtried that, it’s hard to remark that 38 straight wins and a Final Four wasn’t so bad of an outcome to the newly introduced system of "platooning."
And there’s no question this team has the talent to be 7-8 deep. At various points this season, we’ve seen Sacha Killeya-Jones, Dominique Hawkins, Wenyen Gabriel, and Mychal Mulder contributing, but not consistently enough that you feel great about them if the NCAA Tournament began today.
There are a lot of schools these four could go to and start for without a hesitation. Each one of them has a lot of talent to bring to the table; they just need to execute it outside of practice and into the games.
Listed below are the Per-Game Statistics for the key four that Kentucky needs to step up their production to deepen this team.
- Mychal Mulder- 6.5 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.4 APG, .456 FG%,
- Wenyen Gabriel- 5.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.1 APG, .487 FG%
- Dominique Hawkins- 3.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, .360 FG%
- Sacha Killeya-Jones - 3.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.2 APG, .586 FG%
These four individuals are very crafty, although are averaging way below what they should be. What UK needs most is for them to increase their averages, and this team will be set and ready for business. I have confidence in this team, and I strongly believe this team will adjust and figure out what needs to be done come SEC Tourney time.
UGLY: The Refs
If you’ve watched any of the games Tuesday (Jan 17) night, you probably noticed A LOT of free throws. You probably heard a lot of whistles blown. You might’ve even seen rants all over social media about it.
I’m not usually the one to do the ‘blame game’ on the referees, but this time, there was every right to. SEC Officials whistled 181 combined fouls in four games Tuesday night. That’s 1.13 fouls per minute of play.
What kind of entertainment is that for the people watching? Or even the players?
That’s unacceptable and needs to be reviewed by the SEC committee. All we can do is deal with it and move on. It’s out of our hands. Our focus needs to be to win ball games, and hit free throws.
Here’s a look at the rest of the season:
- South Carolina (Jan 21)
- @ Tennessee (Jan 24)
- Kansas (Jan 28)
- Georgia (Jan 31)
- @ Florida (Feb 4)
- LSU (Feb 7)
- @ Alabama (Feb 11)
- Tennessee (Feb 14)
- @Georgia (Feb 18)
- @Missouri (Feb 21)
- Florida (Feb 25)
- Vanderbilt (Feb 28)
- @Texas A&M (Mar 4)