The Kentucky Wildcats just can’t seem to get over the hump. They have scored some impressive road wins in recent weeks, particularly at Arkansas and Texas Tech, but consistency over a period of two or three weeks remains elusive.
By Matt Zemek
The South Carolina loss was terrible. This past Saturday’s loss to Auburn wasn’t terrible, but it certainly represented a missed opportunity to bolster the resume and move up in the seeding chart for the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky has to go on a long winning streak if it wants to have a real chance at a No. 3 seed. The losses to Evansville, Utah and South Carolina are going to limit how high the Wildcats can rise, so if UK wants to avoid having to face a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16, it needs to get on a roll. That is the cost of losing these other games.
The other main cost of losing to Auburn is that Kentucky is now two games behind LSU in the SEC title race. The margin for error in the SEC season is decreasing instead of growing larger. Now comes a Mississippi State team which is showing signs of improving. The Bulldogs are an NCAA bubble team under coach Ben Howland, and they know that if they win in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night, their NCAA prospects will become a lot brighter. Kentucky has to strap in and prepare for a motivated opponent.
1 – Contain Reggie Perry
Mississippi State’s rangy, agile forward scored 27 points against Florida and then dropped 24 points and 12 rebounds on Tennessee this past weekend. He is playing great, and that’s why Mississippi State has won five SEC games in a row to enter the bubble conversation. Perry versus Nick Richards will be worth the price of admission. Richards, coming off a very poor game against Auburn, needs to be ready to ball against Perry. Chances are he will be.
2 – Ashton Hagans at the offensive end
Hagans’ defense is very good. The Texas Tech game showed as much, and when this team needs a stop, having Hagans on the floor is such a huge plus. However, Hagans’ floor game on offense remains spotty and inconsistent. Six turnovers littered the stat sheet against Auburn, a noticeable flaw for the Wildcats in their loss to the Tigers. Hagans’ turnovers are so irritating because he is never going to be the main offensive engine for Kentucky. He has to facilitate good halfcourt offense and let others score. Not making mistakes is important for everyone, but for him in particular… and he isn’t always making the grade in this regard. If he can clean up his game, Kentucky should be able to win a lot more regularly.
3 – Strong start
Kentucky started slowly against Vanderbilt at home last week and got away with it. Mississippi State isn’t Vanderbilt. Kentucky needs to punch MSU in the mouth and dare the Bulldogs to mount a comeback in Rupp. Let’s see how that works out.