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By LARRY VAUGHT
Even though he still believes Florida will win the SEC, ESPN analyst Bruce Pearl doesn’t see the Gators as unbeatable because of the “offensive weaponry” they have lost the last few years.
“This is one of best defensive teams that (coach) Billy Donovan has had. But there is not one single guaranteed first-round NBA draft pick on that team,” Pearl, the former Tennessee coach, said. “There are a bunch of guys who will play professionally. I like their roster and think he has done a great job, but there is not one first-round pick on that team. Offensively, they are showing some limitations and can be guarded. Defensively, their zone will bother Kentucky. But Billy is also due to beat Cal.
“I would put Florida and Missouri neck and neck with Kentucky third. That is where I had Kentucky at the beginning of the season. I think Tennessee will compete for fourth and the next team could be Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, LSU. Who knows?”
For Kentucky to win the league, Pearl still believes Harrow is the key. He noted what happened the second half at Louisville when UK almost overcame a 17-point deficit before losing and one reason was the late scoring of Goodwin.
“Archie is a scorer. He can make plays off the ball but Harrow has got to run the club and run the break. Let Archie get on wing and get the ball. Throw the ball ahead to Archie and good luck stopping him,” Pearl said.
“I loved the way coach Cal just beat the life out of Ryan on ESPN (in the preseason all-access show). He called him everything but a little girl, but I loved the way those two interacted in the Louisville game. That continues to tell me that there might not be any coach in the country better at motivating kids and understanding kids. He put Harrow through a lot, but he’s responding. That was an encouraging sign and showed the chemistry on this team. That’s why Harrow is such a key for them.”
Pearl expects Kentucky to be in numerous close games during SEC play, especially on the road.
“They have to figure out how to win close games,” Pearl said.
Winning those games could help UK’s NCAA Tournament seeding even though it might not matter that much to the Wildcats by March.
“At Tennessee, I needed a good seed to advance. Kentucky doesn’t need that. They could make history. They could go to the Final Four as an eight or nine seed,” Pearl said. “They could win a lot of games in the SEC, but right now their highest RPI win is Maryland. They’ve got to beat Florida and Missouri. It’s almost unfortunate for Kentucky that the league RPI is down. That’s why they could be a 7-8-9 seed. But what No. 1 seed would want to go against them in the second round (of the NCAA)? They could be scary good by then.”