Kentucky Basketball: Ranking the Biggest Games Left on Wildcats' Schedule
After some stumbles in and out of SEC play, the Kentucky Wildcats might be finally getting things together with three wins in a row. However, there are still a lot of tough tests remaining on the schedule.
We all knew the Wildcats had tons of talent, but they hadn't been able to put it all together. There are still question marks on both ends of the court, although the first three-game winning streak since November is certainly encouraging. Now the goal is to keep it going for the rest of the year.
The challenge will be a handful of difficult matchups that will be extremely meaningful as Kentucky tries to once again contend for an SEC title while preparing itself for the NCAA tournament. Unlike other sports where a win is a win, some games are more important than others.
Here is a look at the biggest contests still to come in the regular season.
5. Jan. 30 at Kansas
Most would expect this game to be higher. It is arguably the toughest remaining on the schedule, and it pits together two of the top programs in basketball history at historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse. With so many NBA prospects on the floor, you can be certain this game will get a lot of attention.
However, it is far from the most important for Kentucky.
As the only nonconference game remaining on the schedule, this will have no bearing on the SEC standings. The team also isn't desperate for a big win thanks to victories over Louisville and Duke, even though the latter doesn't look quite as good now.
Meanwhile, this is a game few are expecting the Wildcats to win. Kansas has struggled a bit lately, but head coach Bill Self is an incredible 200-9 at the Phog and hasn't lost this season. The Jayhawks have great depth and the size inside to really cause problems defensively.
Kentucky can prove itself by winning, but there is no pressure with nothing at stake. A loss is no big deal, which is a rarity in college basketball. That could make this simply a fun game for the players and the fans.
4. Feb. 13 at South Carolina
South Carolina still has its doubters, but the squad continues to exceed expectations. The Gamecocks are 18-2 on the year and 5-2 in conference, showing that their run earlier in the year was not a fluke.
The squad is so dangerous due to its balanced offensive attack with five scorers averaging double figures. Guards Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice had been the keys to this team, but Michael Carrera has really stepped up lately with 16 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in conference play. With the way this team can attack the offensive boards, Kentucky will certainly have its hands full in this game.
USC has proven itself as a legitimate contender in the SEC and will likely remain near the top of the conference standings all year, which makes it a bigger problem that these teams only play once. Kentucky better figure out how to play better on the road, or else it will lose an important tiebreaker with no chance of getting it back.
3. Feb. 6 vs. Florida
Winning on the road is meaningful, but the first thing any top team needs to do is hold serve as home. This is especially true for a squad hoping to win a league title and get a good seed in the NCAA tournament.
Arguably the toughest home game remaining comes against Florida. The squad is considered third-best in the SEC by KenPom.com, trailing only Texas A&M and Kentucky. While new head coach Michael White was known as an offensive genius, the key to the team's success this year has been a defense that ranks No. 4 in the country in overall efficiency.
If the Gators can force Kentucky to take tough shots, it could lead to a loss—even at home.
On the other end of the court, the key will be the play of Kasey Hill. The point guard has been a bit of a disappointment with mediocre numbers throughout his career, but he played well against the Wildcats last season with two double-digit scoring games. He only had three other games of that kind all year.
Kentucky better be ready for a difficult matchup as it tries to stay undefeated at home.
2. March 5 vs. LSU
LSU embarrassed Kentucky earlier in the year. The Wildcats had put together some tough losses in the nonconference season, but people still considered them a top contender heading into SEC play. It wasn't until the 18-point defeat on Jan. 5 at the hands of the Tigers that major questions started to arise.
Perhaps the worst part is that superstar and projected No. 1 NBA draft pick Ben Simmons didn't even do the most damage. That was Tim Quarterman and Craig Victor, who each had double-doubles in the surprising win.
The good news is Kentucky has a chance to get revenge, which is something it can't do with UCLA, Ohio State or Auburn—at least in the regular season. LSU comes to Rupp Arena in the final game on the schedule with a great deal likely at stake.
Whether the team is playing for seeding in the conference tournament, perception nationally or anything else, the opportunity to avenge the loss in the last home game of the year will make this a big enough battle.
1. Feb. 20 at Texas A&M
Texas A&M dropped its first game in conference play Wednesday night in a disappointing road loss to Arkansas. The Aggies could still remain in the Top 10 of the polls, but all of a sudden, we once again have a race in the SEC.
Kentucky currently has two losses in the league, and while there could be a few more, any chance the team has of winning a regular-season title will likely require a victory in this matchup. Texas A&M doesn't come to Lexington, so it will all be on the line on Feb. 20.
A road win obviously won't come easy. The young Wildcats have struggled away from home all season, and the veteran lineup of seniors Jalen Jones, Danuel House and Alex Caruso ensure few mistakes on the court. Texas A&M is yet to lose at home this year, and until it does, it will remain in the driver's seat in the SEC.
The Wildcats still have a chance to finish on top of the conference, but the road to a title will go through College Station this season.
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