The University of Kentucky men's basketball team has had more ups and downs this season than a roller coaster.
The Wildcats lost to a lowly Gardner-Webb team (which currently sports a record of 8-11) in the beginning of the season, before beating the likes of University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt, both ranked opponents.
There is an answer to why all this transpired and I have it.
Simply put: DEFENSE.
While this seems like an obvious answer and it might be; the difference between wins and losses for the Wildcats comes down to the amount of points the Wildcats gave up in their losses compared with wins. In UK's nine losses they have given up an average of 80 points per game, while in its eight wins UK opponents have only mustered 52 points per contest.
That my friends is a huge differential of almost 30 points. If you watched the Kentucky and Tennessee game on Jan. 22nd, you witnessed possibly the best defensive showing all season out of any team.
The Wildcats were the first team to truly slow and frustrate the Volunteer's offense.
Chris Lofton was held scoreless in the second half until he hit two separate 3-point prayers followed by a few harmless free throws. Kentucky's plan was to play tough man to man while having a spy, so it was like there were one and a half men on one the entire game.
Give credit to the Kentucky players, but also give recognition to the Kentucky coaching staff and head coach Billy Gillispie.
I have been one of Gillispie's biggest critics. I, like all Kentucky fans, hate losing and have not experienced much of it in my life. It is not a coincidence that virtually the same Kentucky team won 22 games last year. The team has looked very out-of-sink this year, almost as if it had no clue on offense while playing suspect defense.
The Wildcats have also been hit hard with the injury bug. Losing two top sophomores for key stretches in Jodie Meeks and Derrick Jasper has left the scoring burden up to three players in Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley and freshman sensation Patrick Patterson.
Gillispie is finally starting to form the team to his liking. He stresses competing in every game as well as having a big amount of toughness. As the team progresses it could become one able to make a run.
I am not just another Kentucky fan who thinks we can and should win the National Championship every year. However, I do think we can compete with anyone.
Yes, this same Kentucky team that lost to Gardner-Webb is now a force to be reckoned with.
The one thing left they have to prove to me is winning on the road, a task they have yet to accomplish. I think that first road win will come Saturday, February 2nd, in Athens, Georgia. This Georgia team has had spurts, but Kentucky should beat it and could go on a roll from here.
It is still early in the season and there are many things that can happen. Do not be surprised if UK works its way back into an NCAA tourney berth and causes more than a little trouble. The Wildcats have the tools to do so and a coach that can help them succeed.
I will make a BOLD prediction right now and say the Kentucky Wildcats WILL make it to the SEC title game.
You heard it from me first and do not be surprised when it happens.