On Thursday night, the Kentucky Wildcats will walk into Stegman Coliseum for a must win game in the eyes of many. A must win game for their NCAA hopes, dreams, and the rest of their season. The current Vegas odds have the ‘Cats winning by 4, because they feel that Kentucky is the better team. The ‘Cats are better in every statistical category except FT shooting (-4%), but can they win another one on the road? Here are some keys:
Lose Everything vs. Nothing To Lose:Kentucky already tried to springboard themselves in the NCAA Tournament conversation with their game at Arkansas. That didn’t go over so well, so now they will try again in Athens. The ‘Cats last conference road game comes against a Georgia team that just beat Tennessee in Athens by 10. Yes, that same Tennessee team that knocked off the ‘Cats by 30 in Knoxville. Oh, and here’s another one for size. Georgia went to Arkansas and only lost by 2 points. Kentucky just did the same road trip and lost by 13. They have also beaten Texas A&M twice, while Kentucky went 1-1. This is not a “bad” Georgia team despite their 13-14 overall record. They are out of the tournament and have nothing to lose with the ‘Cats coming to town. The ‘Cats could lose more than just a game tonight suffering a defeat against Georgia. Kentucky would need to then knock off Florida at home and then win the SEC Tournament to be in consideration for the NCAA’s. Georgia will be dangerous and tough at home.
A Pope will lead them: No, not the catholic one that stepped down recently. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been the savior for this Georgia team in their moments of success. He’s averaging 18 points per game, shooting 37% from the 3 point line, and 80% from the free-throw line. KCP is a dangerous weapon for the ‘Dawgs, and will be the head of their attack. If Kentucky forgets him on defense, and/or let’s him get into a rhythm, it could be lights out for the ‘Cats.
Do or Die: If now isn’t the time, I don’t know when it will be. There’s the Georgia game, and then Florida on senior night. The showcase at Arkansas may have dimmed the chances more, but a loss to Georgia will knock the lights out on Kentucky’s postseason hopes. Georgia’s record (losses to Youngstown State, Southern Miss, South Florida, Georgia Tech, and Iona) is bad enough. For Kentucky, they will have to prove to the committee how they can play with adversity. A win tonight can also lock in the ‘Cats for a double-bye in the SEC Tournament.
Conclusion: Kentucky’s postseason lives are on the line and there is only 2 games left on the conference schedule to prove something to the committee. Adversity has been following this group of ‘Cats all year long, and they have not responded well. John Calipari believes Kentucky still has a run in them, they still have the time to be the “hot team” you don’t want to play in a tournament. Georgia has nothing to lose, and is on a high after beating Tennessee at home. Kentucky has to face adversity again after losing to Arkansas. How do they handle it? That will be the major key for a win in Athens. Oh, and guarding that Caldwell-Pope guy, too.