By RICHARD CHEEKS
Before the Cats packed for their trip to the O Center this weekend, most people understood that the Cats’ game has been slipping while the Gators have been raising the level of their play in recent weeks. Most observers believed that the Cats would probably lose in Gainesville, perhaps by 1 to 3 points, but I don’t know anyone, except one member of the Big Blue Nation who confided in me on Friday evening that he feared a huge beatdown at Florida, perhaps by as much as 20 points.
Well, dear friends, the final margin was 22 points, and not in favor of the Cats.
At the end of the game, the TV camera caught some members of the UK team in a moment of frivolity, laughing it up, while the clock ticked toward 0:00 to bring this beat down to a merciful end. The Gators out rebounded the Cats by 25, 54-29, including a 17-6 pounding on the offensive glass. This rebounding debacle coupled with the poorest shooting game of the year, 23-61 (37.7%) from the field and 14-23 (60.9%) from the line does not spell R-E-L-I-E-F. It spells P-A-I-N.
Yes, I have heard the later explanation that the “frivolity” on the bench was triggered by the Gator student section singing happy birthday to Malik Monk. However, even that explanation is not comforting because I seriously doubt that the students would choose such a gesture if the game was really a 1 to 3 point game, much less a 20+ point UK beatdown of the Gators. No, they offered up the verse of happy birthday as a final gesture of humiliation handed to Mr. Monk and his teammates on his birthday.
This UK team has transformed itself over the course of 4 weeks from a team playing as well as any team in the country and beating SEC opponents by 20+ points per game to having lost 3 of their last 4 games, including this humiliation in Gainesville. Leaves me to wonder what has changed. Does Coach Calipari know the answer to this question, and does he have a correction that he can quickly put into place before this team must hit the road again next Saturday and travel to face Alabama, another SEC team on the rise, that smells Cat blood in the water. Coach Calipari will have a few days of practice and a game against LSU at Rupp on Tuesday night to implement the correction, if a correction is possible.
LSU enters the game with a 9-13; 1-9 record. The Tigers have lost 11 of their 12 games since beating #84 College of Charleston by 10 at home on December 19, 2016. The Tigers did go on the road and get an SEC win at #188 Missouri, but the losses continue to pile up for this group of Tigers. LSU lost to #7 Florida at home by 35 points, and the closest the Tigers have come to another SEC win was a 4 point loss at Auburn, 78-74. Other than Auburn, LSU has lost by double digits in every game.
LSU’s most impressive win this season has been over #43 Houston by 19 points in Baton Rouge. LSU enters this game with an ANE of -0.012 points per possession against a strength of schedule of 0.0730 ppp (#31). The Cats enter this game with an ANE of 0.303 ppp against a strength of schedule of 0.0909 ppp (#21).
The ANE analysis indicates a Kentucky win by 31 points, 94-63 at apace of 79 possessions. This would produce game efficiencies of 1.190 ppp and 0.798 ppp. Pomeroy sees this game in Kentucky’s favor by 26 points101-75 at a pace of 78 possessions.
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