By RICHARD CHEEKS
The annuls of SEC Basketball reveal 97 regular season champions crowned in 83 basketball season since the inception of this conference for the 1932-33 season. Kentucky holds 47 of those championship (one was vacated), which means the Cats have either claimed the championship or shared the championship over 56% of the seasons. As the 2016 (the 84th season) enters the last 5 games of its 18 game schedule, the Cats sit in a familiar position, first place at 10-3, one full game ahead of the LSU, who is 9-4.
The Cats hold a full 2 game advantage over Texas A&M, Florida, and South Carolina, and a full 3 game advantage over Vanderbilt, Alabama, and Georgia. The Cats’ games at Texas A&M and Florida will probably determine who will wear the crown for 2016.
• LSU will have to beat UK in Lexington in the last game of the regular season for any chance to be champion this year. However, prior to that final encounter, LSU must travel to Tennessee and Arkansas, and host Florida in Baton Rouge and sustain fewer losses than the Cats do down the stretch run if they want their encounter at Rupp to carry any significance on game day.
• Texas A&M must win out, including a victory over the Cats on Saturday, and then hope for help from either Florida or Vanderbilt to have a chance at the 2016 regular season championship.
• Florida must win out, including a victory over the Cats in 2 weeks, and including wins at LSU and South Carolina, to be in the running, and even still must get additional help from either Texas A&M or Vanderbilt to catch the Cats.
• South Carolina must win out and hope that the Cats drop 2 of its final 5 games to play their way back into SEC championship contention.
• There may not be enough games remaining for Vanderbilt, Alabama, or Georgia to play their way into serious contention for the SEC championship, but each of them will have opportunities to play the spoiler for any of the top four teams still standing.
As has been the case for so many SEC seasons, the Cats and the LSU Tigers are the only teams in control of their own SEC destiny, as the 2016 season moves toward the finish line. With a victory on Saturday in College Station, the Cats can take a giant step toward their 48th SEC championship. A loss will drop them to within reach of LSU, A&M, Florida, and South Carolina with only four games remaining.
The Cats moved into sole possession of first place this week with a win at Rupp over Tennessee. However, Marcus Lee left the game early with a back injury, Derek Willis commented after the game that his body is hurting from the wear and tear of the season, and Alex Poythress remains on the sideline following another knee injury. His status for Saturday appears doubtful, Marcus Lee’s status for Saturday is unknown at this time, and Derek Willis’ status is he plans to play.
As Derek Willis has said, I “can’t get my body healthy right now. Just a lot of rest tomorrow (Friday) and get some treatment on my body and get ready for that game. That’s it.”
Coach Calipari’s cats are limping into College Station for a very important basketball game against a very strong opponent that knows it’s season hinges on a win over the Cats.
Texas A&M brings a 19-7; 8-5 SEC record into this critical ncounter with the Cats. The Cats record now stands at 20-6, 10-3 in the SEC. In recent weeks, the Cats have won 7 of their last 8 SEC games while the Aggies have lost 5 of their last 7 SEC games. These programs appear headed in opposite directions. However, the Cats should make less of the current trends and more of the Aggies’ ability to defeat the Cats in College Station.
Texas A&M and the Cats have faced one common non-conference opponent, Arizona State. The Cats defeated ASU at Rupp by 14 one week after the Aggies lost to the Sun Devils in Tempe by 13. The Aggies claim some impressive wins this season including an 11 point win over #23 Texas, a 1 point win over #32 Gonzaga, a 19 point win over #37 Baylor, and a 10 point win over #16 Iowa State. The Aggies most embarrassing loss this season has been at #87 Arkansas by 3 and at #80 Arizona State by 13.
TEXAS A&M has played its 26 games at an average tempo of about 70 possessions per game, scoring 75.9 ppg (1.090 ppp) and allowing an average 65.4 ppg (0.937 ppp). TEXAS A&M has turned the ball over on 18.0% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 21.5% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, TEXAS A&M has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 34.1%, and a defensive rebounding rate of 69.6%. The Texas A&M schedule has a strength of schedule of 0.6584 (#43).
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 70 possessions per game, producing 78.8 ppg (1.128 ppp) and allowing 67.0 ppg (0.957 ppp). The Cats have committed turnovers on 17.0% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 18.7% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 38.4% and 68.8% on the offensive and defensive ends. The Cats have a strength of schedule of 0.6670 (#32).
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of Texas A&M with a theoretical margin of 4 points, 74-70 in a game played at a pace of 70 possessions for the Cats and 70 possessions for Texas A&M. Pomeroy figures the Game in A&M’s favor by 2 points, 72-70 at a pace of 67 possessions. Vegas opened with the Aggies a 1 point favorite.
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