Kentucky Wildcats Come to a Crossroads

Benjamin OsborneContributor IJanuary 2, 2009

After flying under the radar for nearly the whole month of December, the Kentucky Wildcats are about to reappear on the national stage, and the next three games may determine the course of the rest of their season.  A month full of cupcakes has inflated Kentucky’s record to 11-3, but a Sunday showdown with Louisville will test the true validity of this Wildcat squad.
The national media has failed to truly notice the season Wildcat guard Jodie Meeks is putting together.  The junior guard is averaging 24 points per game, shooting nearly 43 percent from three-point range, and is making a 30-point game a common factor.

Meeks topped out with a 46-point performance on nine three-pointers against Appalachian State, and followed it up with a 32-point showing against Tennessee State, highlighted by hitting seven threes in the first half. 

In Billy Gillispie’s offense, Meeks still plays second fiddle to Patrick Patterson, who has made easy work of the light December schedule and little competition in the post.  Patterson has dominated the paint to the tune of multiple double-doubles over this stretch, leaving little doubt that he has returned to 100 percent after offseason ankle surgery.
With SEC play quickly approaching, where do the Wildcats stack up in the conference?  Nearly all will agree that the SEC is horrifically down this year; Tennessee is the only team on the national radar currently, and the SEC West exists as a cesspool of NIT-bound teams, at best. 

Therefore, Kentucky has a favorable chance of contending for an SEC title by default.  Tennessee, Florida, and Arkansas will be the top competitors, and there will inevitably be a shocking contender or two as the season unfolds.  The SEC, while not being the “best” league, will not lack excitement.
But for Kentucky to assume its throne of SEC supremacy, which it abdicated in 2006 and has not recovered, several questions must be answered. 

One, a third scorer must be found to accompany Meeks and Patterson.  The preferred candidates would be talented freshmen DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller, but both have looked a bit shaky on the offensive end as of late, particularly Miller. 

Two, get forward Ramon Harris healthy.  Harris has been in and out of the lineup since his frightening neck injury against Lamar, and his absence will hurt the Cats defensively.  The junior from Alaska is by far the Cats’ best perimeter defender. 

Three, defend dribble penetration more effectively.  VMI beat them and Florida Atlantic nearly upset them due to it, and more athletic teams from the SEC (and Louisville) will look to break down the Cats defensively.  Kentucky has been stout on the defensive end this month, but has that been a product of the schedule?
We will begin to find out on Sunday afternoon.