By RICHARD CHEEKS
Thirty games are in the books, and the 31st and final game of the 2016-17 regular season will occur at Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon. The Cats have navigated their schedule with 5 total losses, 2 losses in the SEC. The SEC record is sufficient to secure at least a tie with Florida for the Regular Season Championship, and the #1 seed for the SEC post season tournament. A win at Texas A&M will earn an outright regular season championship.
Arguably, the Cats are finishing the season on the upswing. The Cats are currently riding a 7 game winning streak, their 3rd 7 game winning streak of the season. Therefore, a win at Texas A&M will also send the Cats into the post season with their longest winning streak of the season.
The winning streak, some might say, nearly ended in each of the Cats’ last two games. Against Florida and Vanderbilt, the Cats fell behind in the first half of each game by double digits due to a combination of a slow start by the Cats and red hot starts by each Florida and Vanderbilt. In each game, the Cats managed to substantially eliminate those huge leads by the halftime break, and in the second half, pulled away for wins.
Is the glass half-full or half-empty? For those who see it as half-empty, these games point to a problem plaguing this team with slow starts, and games reveal an Achilles Heel for the team that some fear will prove fatal as March Madness unfolds. For those who see it as half-full, these games point to a new found grittiness, a will to win that some believe can sustain a deep run into March Madness. I take the latter, half-full, point of view.
On January 3, Texas A&M ran into a Cats Attack of epic proportion in Rupp Arena and returned to College Station after suffering a 42 point defeat, 100-58. The 42 point margin of defeat was out of character for the Aggies on January 3. In their 4 prior losses, the margins of defeat had been only 2 points to #63 USC, 7 points to #12 UCLA, 4 points to #22 Arizona, and 10 points to #59 Tennessee. The 42 point defeat remained out of character for the Aggies since that time as well. Even though Texas A&M has lost 8 additional games since that night in Rupp, they have not lost a single time by more than 14 points.
As out of character the 42 point margin was for the Aggies, it seemed like business as usual for the Cats on January 3. The 100 points scored marked the 5th time in the first 14 games that the Cats broke the century mark, and the 10th time in the first 14 games that the Cats scored at least 93 points.
On the defensive end, it was the 3rd time to hold an opponent to less than 60 points, and the 9th time in 14 games to hold an opponent under 70 points. However, since January 3, the Cats have not broken the century mark a single time, and only scored 93 points or more one time, in the next game against Arkansas. Further, the Cats have allowed more than 70 points in 9 of the following 16 games.
TEXAS A&M enters this game with a 16-14; 8-10 record. Texas A&M has won three of its last four games, beating #78 Auburn and #62 Alabama at home by 19 and 3 points, respectively. The Aggies also claimed a road win at #169 Missouri by 17 points earlier this week.
TEXAS A&M enters this game with an ANE of 0.125 points per possession against strength of schedule of 0.0681 ppp (#60). The Cats enter this game with an ANE of 0.290 ppp against strength of schedule of 0.0942 ppp (#28). The ANE analysis indicates a Kentucky win by 5 points, 75-70, at apace of 71 possessions. This would produce game efficiencies of 1.060 ppp and 0.989 ppp. Pomeroy sees this game in Kentucky’s favor by 7 points 77-70 at a pace of 70 possessions. Vegas opened favoring the Cats by 7 ½ points.
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