By RICHARD CHEEKS
On Saturday night, the Kentucky Wildcats defeated a strong Arkansas Razorbacks team by 26 points to advance their SEC start to 3-0. However, as Vesper Lind pointed out to James Bond, there are 3-0 starts and there are 3-0 starts, and this is the latter. The Cats have opened their 2017 SEC season with wins of 23, 42, and 26 points.
Tom Leach, near the end of the game on Saturday said he had quickly checked the records for the last time any UK team opened SEC play with three 20+ wins, and indicated it may have occurred at some time in the 1950s.
It is appropriate to document rare achievements of UK teams when they occur. On first blush, it appears that the Cats opened their 1956 SEC season in this manner with wins of 53 over Georgia Tech, 22 over Tulane, and 42 over LSU, all at Memorial Coliseum. However, the Cats opened their season on December 4, 1955 at LSU with a 10 point win. Therefore, 1955-56 is not such a start. The 1955 Cats did not start this way. Neither did the teams in the seasons of 1957 through 2016.
However, it is notable that Dan Issel’s 1969-70 team fell 1 point short of this accomplishment, beating Mississippi by 22, Mississippi State by 45, and at Florida by 19. In addition, two Pitino teams had similar starts in 1994-95 and 1995-96 in which his Cats fell short in 1995 by only winning at Florida by 16 in their third game and in 1996 by only winning at Mississippi State by 18.
Therefore, no Cats team has achieved what this team has done in its first 3 SEC games in any of the last 51 seasons. In 1953-54, the Cats posted their only undefeated season, 24-0. The UK history buffs all know that this team was a powerhouse that the NCAA found a “rule” to prohibit it from winning another NCAA title. That team opened its SEC season with wins over Georgia Tech by 52, Tulane by 51, and at Tennessee by 26. That team continued its rampage through the SEC with wins of 22 at Vanderbilt, 51 at Georgia Tech, 51 against Georgia, 32 at Georgia, 41 at Florida, 26 against Mississippi, 27 against Tennessee, 36 against Vanderbilt, 30 at Auburn, 25 at Alabama, and by only 13 points against LSU. By my count, that is 12 consecutive SEC games won by 20 or more points. What a team the Hagan, Ramsey, Tsioropoulos group were!!!!
The Cats did not play a schedule in 1953 due to a NCAA death penalty. For the record, no UK team from 1952 back to 1942 achieved this strong SEC start either.
Can these Cats continue winning by 20 or more points like the 1953-54 team did, or will its march through the 2017 SEC field in a somewhat less dominating manner? These Cats will have their next opportunity to put their fingerprints on UK basketball history and lore on Tuesday night when they take on Vanderbilt in Nashville.
VANDERBILT enters the game with a 8-7; 2-1 record. The Commodores lost games to #38 Marquette by 24 (Neutral), to #97 Bucknell by 3, to #15 Butler by 10 (Neutral), to #31 Minnesota by 4 (Neutral), at #58 Middle Tennessee by 23, at #34 Dayton by 3, and at #70 Alabama by 3. The Commodores’ most impressive win this season has been over #59 Chattanooga by 2 in Nashville. Vanderbilt enters this game with an ANE of 0.115 points per possession against a strength of schedule of 6.09 ppp (#25). The Cats enter this game with an ANE of 0.343 ppp against a strength of schedule of 4.31 ppp (#51).
The ANE analysis indicates a Kentucky win by 12 points, 81-69 at apace of 73 possessions. This would produce game efficiencies of 1.102 ppp and 0.939 ppp. Pomeroy sees this game in Kentucky’s favor by 11 points, 85-74 at a pace of 73 possessions.
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