By RICHARD CHEEKS
The Cats seemed to be disoriented by the Phog in the second half and overtime, but on Tuesday night the Cats completely lost their bearings after 15 minutes in the Smokies. Hopefully the clear, clean air of Rupp Arena will allow this team to reorient itself and find its game. However, to accomplish a recovery, the Cats will have to wrestle with a Gator who left the swamp to engage these Cats.
The Cats had put together 4 consecutive very strong games posting wins at Arkansas, over Vanderbilt, and against a hapless Missouri team. The Kansas game technically is the fourth game in this sequence, but in reality, it was only ½ a game consistent with their new found excellence. In the Smokies, the Cats returned to the form of that four game run, but could only sustain it for about 14mintues. With about 5:40 remaining in the first half, the Cats led 34-13. However, in that final 5:40, the Vols outscored the Cats 23-8 to trim that Kentucky lead down to only 6 points at the half. In the second half, the Vols dominated the Cats, outscoring them 48-35.
The Cats took another dip, reminiscent of the roller coaster ride that marked Games 4 through 17. So, Cat fans everywhere are wondering when this team’s true identity will be solidified. With only 9 games remaining in the regular season, the Cats need to have their game clicking at the top of their range rather than in doubt, much less bumping along the bottom like it did again on Tuesday against Tennessee in the Smokies.
The next nine games includes home and home with Florida, and road games at Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. In addition, the Cats play rematches with Tennessee (a road loss), LSU (a road loss), and Alabama (a road win). Add a game at Rupp against Georgia, and the Cats final nine games will pose many obstacles to finishing the regular season with the 6 losses they currently must explain.
Florida brings a 15-7, 6-3 record into this SEC showdown with the Cats, who sport a record of 16-6, 6-3 in the SEC. In their non-conference schedule, Florida has suffered losses to #13 Purdue by 15, at #16 Miami of Florida by 11, at #6 Michigan State by 6, and to #39 Florida State by 2. Florida’s most impressive non-conference win was over #7 West Virginia by 17 a week ago. Halfway through the SEC season, the Gators and Cats have each played Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas. The Cats finished 4-3 against that array of opponents while the Gators managed a 5-2 record against those common SEC opponents. The Cats also faced Alabama and Missouri winning both while the Gators faced Texas A&M and Georgia, splitting those games.
FLORIDA has played its first 22 games at an average tempo of about 71 possessions per game, scoring 75.0 ppg (1.056 ppp) and allowing an average 65.8 ppg (0.928 ppp). FLORIDA has turned the ball over on 16.6% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 19.2% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, FLORIDA has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 34.2%, and a defensive rebounding rate of 70.3%. The Florida schedule has a strength of schedule of 0.6869.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 70 to 71 possessions per game, producing 78.1 ppg (1.110 ppp) and allowing 68.3 ppg (0.964 ppp). The Cats have committed turnovers on 17.6% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 18.8% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 38.9% and 69.4% on the offensive and defensive ends. The Cats have a strength of schedule of 0.6411.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of Kentucky by 4 points, 74-70 in a game played at a pace of 71 possessions for the Cats and 71 possessions for Florida. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 4 points, 73-69 at a pace of 69 possessions. Vegas opened Friday evening with the Cats favored by 4 points, but the line widened to 6 points within an hour of the opening.
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