Kentucky will join SEC Tournament play on Friday after their double-bye through the first two rounds. There opening opponent will be the tournament’s No. 10 seed Alabama after they beat Ole Miss on Thursday.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Stop Tevin Mack
The Wildcats need no introduction to how destructive Mack can be when he is on his game.
In the very first SEC game of the season, Mack went for 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 6-of-8 from three-point range as the Crimson Tide beat the Wildcats 77-75. A lot has changed since that point in the season, with Kentucky emerging as a legitimate title contender and Alabama falling to the No. 10 seed in this tournament, but if Mack is on his game then Alabama can run with just about anyone.
Mack looked back to his scintillating best as Alabama upset No. 7 seed Ole Miss 62-57 on Thursday. He scored 21 points on 8-of-13 from the field and also pulled in six boards. Mack alone shouldn’t be enough to beat a Kentucky side that has been defensively spectacular over the last month, but if Alabama is to shake up the tournament with a massive upset then he will be the driving force.
How healthy is Reid Travis
The Wildcats cannot win the SEC Tournament, let alone the national title, without a healthy Travis.
The senior graduate transfer forward missed the last five games of the regular season and Kentucky battled to a 4-1 record without him in the lineup. While the Wildcats were still picking up wins, they were far from the dominant force in the post than they were with Travis in controlling the paint, especially on defense. A team like Tennessee or perhaps Auburn would cause Kentucky huge problems without the big man at full health.
The issue is that we really have no idea how healthy Travis is. John Calipari has said that the former Stanford player will be coming of the bench with limited minutes. This could be true, or Coach Cal could be trolling everyone with a healthy Travis at his disposal. Watch his minutes and movement here to get a clearer picture of where Travis is at in his rehab.
Don’t let Alabama roll early
It is always a mixed blessing to enter a tournament late. On the plus side Kentucky is far more rested than Alabama will be as they didn’t play on Thursday. On the minus side the Wildcats will not have the same game sharpness early as the Crimson Tide and they will not have a feel for how the court in Nashville plays on game day.
Over the course of the game this will even out and Kentucky will get into their flow. By the end of the game they will (theoretically) be the fresher team and they should be able to turn that freshness into easy shots against Alabama. The key then is to take things easy over the first 10 minutes or so while making sure the Crimson Tide never gets a roll going on offense.
If Kentucky can keep things tight when Alabama is pressing early, then they should be able to pull away late for a relatively easy win.