By RICHARD CHEEKS
For the fourth time in the last five games, the Kentucky Wildcats find themselves playing on the road, this time at Arkansas. On Saturday, the Cats allowed a double digit second half lead evaporate for the second consecutive game, but this time, their second half collapse cost them the win. Auburn beat a UK basketball team for the first time in their last 19 tries, and at the end, the Auburn fans stormed the basketball court. The Cats fell to 13-4, 3-2 in the SEC. Life in the SEC does not figure to be any kinder to the Cats on Thursday night when they play the Razorbacks in Bud Walton Arena.
The questions about this team are not receiving answers, at least not the type of answers that comfort the Big Blue Nation. Coach Calipari indicated in the wake of the Auburn loss that he would reevaluate the players, and all but promised lineup changes when the Cats take the floor to face the Hogs. One change that seems obvious to this fan is to reward Derek Willis for his strong showing at Auburn, and his overall strong contributions to this team all season long. As I have written before during this season, I believe the strongest lineup Coach Calipari can use includes Willis with Tyler Ulis, Dominique Hawkins, Alex Poythress, and Marcus Lee. Of course, Dominique Hawkins continues to recover from a high ankle sprain, so that option is probably not available yet, but when Dominique Hawkins is ready to go he has earned the start.
Now, the team is traveling to Fayetteville, Arkansas where some very strong UK teams have left with losses. Fayetteville has been a difficult venue for all UK teams over the years, and Mike Anderson is certain to have his Hogs ready to deliver 40 minutes of h3ll to these Cats on Thursday.
Arkansas brings a 9-8 record, 3-2 in the SEC, into this meeting with the 13-4; 3-2 Wildcats. Arkansas has lost at #9 Texas A&M by 23 points and at #63 LSU by 2. Arkansas’s most embarrassing loss was to #138 Mercer by 3. Arkansas’s most impressive win came at the expense of #30 Vanderbilt by 5 points.
Arkansas and Kentucky have not played a common non-conference opponent but have both played Mississippi State and LSU. Arkansas and Kentucky each beat Mississippi State on their home floors. Arkansas finished off the Bulldogs by 14 points, and the Cats slipped past them by 6 after allowing a 20 point second half lead evaporate. Both of these teams lost to LSU at Baton Rouge, the Cats by 22 and the Hogs by 2.
ARKANSAS has played its first 17 games at an average tempo of about 75 possessions per game, scoring 83.8 ppg (1.113 ppp) and allowing an average 75.9 ppg (1.007 ppp). ARKANSAS has turned the ball over on 15.2% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 20.0% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, ARKANSAS has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 31.9%, and a defensive rebounding rate of 71.7%.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 70 to 71 possessions per game, producing 77.3 ppg (1.096 ppp) and allowing 67.7 ppg (0.955 ppp). The Cats have committed turnovers on 18.4% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 19.4% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 40.3% and 69.6% on the offensive and defensive ends.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of Arkansas by 2 points, 77-75 in a game played at a pace of 73 possessions for the Cats and 73 possessions for Arkansas. Pomeroy figures the Game in Arkansas’s favor by 2 points, 79-77 at a pace of 73 possessions. Vegas opens with the Hogs a 1 ½ point favorite, but the line has flipped to the Cats by 2 within a few hours, 78-76.
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