By: John Saltzman, KCOU Sports
All season long in college basketball one question has remained, who (if anyone) can beat Kentucky? The Wildcats, with a few exceptions, rolled to a 31-0 perfect regular season and all but have the number one overall NCAA tournament seed locked up as they enter the SEC tournament with a double bye.
Outside of the boys from the bluegrass the SEC has been wide open, anything but a certainty, and many of the teams are entering Nashville fighting for their respective tournament lives.
Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s resident Bracketologist cites Kentucky, Arkansas, and Georgia as the locks for the big dance, while Ole Miss, LSU, and Texas A&M “have work to do.” Of the power conference teams only the Big Ten has the same number of teams on the bubble entering their respective tournaments making this year’s SEC bracket more meaningful than ever.
The opening round of the tournament consists of four teams that shouldn’t affect anything in the overall SEC picture except fill in the second round of the bracket. Looking at Thursday’s games, the two teams to watch are Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Andy Kennedy’s Rebels are in a much safer position in terms of bubble teams, as one win over either South Carolina or Missouri would almost certainly lock them in to the field of 68.
On the other hand the Aggies of A&M are faced with the possibility of missing the tournament without some noise made in the Music City. A&M lost at home to a less than stellar Alabama team last Saturday, landing them on Lunardi’s First Four Out list.
To further damage the Aggies hopes, they will have to make due without their leading scorer and best overall player Danuel House as he is still recovering from a foot injury. “Coach Billy Kennedy said it would be a “stretch” for House to play in the SEC tournament,” according to Bleacher Report. On the year, House is averaging 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game and in the last two games without House the Aggies have lost to two under .500 teams, both Florida and the aforementioned Alabama.
To return to the original question that everyone is seemingly asking, who can beat the Cats? If everything holds to form, Kentucky will play Florida, LSU, and finally Arkansas all of which have had recent success against Calipari’s squad. Arkansas has beaten Kentucky 4 out of the last 6 meetings, and LSU nearly denied the Cats pursuit of perfection in a 71-69 thriller back in early February. Does this mean someone is going to pull off the unthinkable and end perfection? No.
The Wildcats are simply too talented for any SEC teams to play with them for a full 40 minutes. The tournament experience will be great for the freshman, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis among others, and coach Cal will have his guys hungry to achieve greatness. The length of 7 footers Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein make inside scoring impossible, and the wave of players or “reinforcements” that keep coming at opponents with high energy wear down lesser teams.
With 2 first team All-SEC players, 2-second team All-SEC players, and 3 Third teamers plus the conference coach of the year in John Calipari, there is simply no team that can match that level of talent.
I believe that Ole Miss, Georgia, LSU, and of course Kentucky and Arkansas will be safely in the field. Despite the Danuel House injury, something tells me that Billy Kennedy will have his guys ready to compete and two wins might just be enough to sneak back into the field. I see the SEC getting 6 teams into the field, and when it’s all said and done the SEC will be crowning the Kentucky Wildcats 2015 SEC Tournament Champions for the record 28th time. Heading into the tournament a perfect 34-0 with a chance to do what no team has done since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers and that is run the table and cap it off with a championship. But what do I know, it is March after all.