The Kentucky Wildcats have been very good about protecting Rupp Arena in 2020. No road team in the SEC has been able to win in Lexington so far this season. The Wildcats have, however, been very inconsistent on the road.
By Matt Zemek
They have, on a broader level, failed to string together four or five quality performances in a row. That challenge looms large as Big Blue goes to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers.
Tennessee has scratched and clawed to work its way back into the thick of the NCAA Tournament hunt. The Volunteers would not be in the NCAA Tournament field if the season ended today, but they are legitimately in the bubble conversation with a chance to collect more wins and change the equation. Tennessee, in its most recent game, came back from a 15-point deficit on the road to beat another SEC bubble team, Alabama.
Rick Barnes doesn’t have a team which can make a deep run in March. It simply isn’t possible given that senior leader Lamonte Turner has been knocked out for the season with an injury. Tennessee is working under a constant burden of limitation. This team has a low ceiling. Yet, the Volunteers are rising and coming closer to reaching that ceiling, wherever it is. Kentucky certainly has not been playing well enough on the road to take the Vols for granted.
1 – EJ Montgomery
Okay, let’s see it. Let’s see E.J. Montgomery play well on the road, something which hasn’t ordinarily happened this season. Let’s see Montgomery play well in consecutive games, something which has rarely taken place this season. Let’s see Montgomery maintain an upward trajectory in his progress and evolution, which we haven’t seen much in this very inconsistent campaign. If Kentucky gets E.J. Montgomery playing well every night, that is exactly how the Wildcats can go on a four- or five-game run, which they need to do if they want to win the SEC regular-season championship and get a higher NCAA Tournament seed.
2 – Turnovers
See? Kentucky committed just eight turnovers against Mississippi State, and the Wildcats scored 80 points. Kentucky not only scored 80 points; it did so in spite of shooting a modest 44 percent from the field and making only one 3-pointer. Can you imagine a team making only one three in modern college hoops and still scoring 80? That’s what happens when a team doesn’t give away many possessions. Committing just eight turnovers a game, every game, will lead Kentucky to the Final Four. Yeah, UK probably won’t attain that average for the rest of the season, but it is certainly something to shoot for.
3 – 50-50 balls
Is this team ready to scrap and fight for every loose ball and win on the road? Is this team ready to take the next step? Let’s see hunger, married with intelligence and ball security. It should work, if applied properly.