By Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
If LSU doesn’t spoil the party Tuesday night down in Baton Rouge (7:00 ET, ESPN), Cal’s Boys will roll into this coming weekend with seven games left in the regular season -- three on the road and four in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. Ironically enough, the three road games are all on weeknights -- two on Tuesday and one on a Wednesday -- with all four remaining home games set for Saturday afternoon or evening tip-offs where the momentum toward that perfect 31-0 regular season will start mounting minute by minute, game by game.
Why do I bring this scenario up at this point in the season?
Because the light at the end of the tunnel for a perfect 31-0 regular season is finally starting to flicker a little (again based on the fact that the LSU game went in the victory column while this column was en route to its various destinations early this week).
The road hasn’t been easy of late with injuries and sickness playing havoc with Coach Cal’s platoon system. The past three games Trey Lyles didn’t even sit on the bench with the team. According to Calipari, it was only for precautionary reasons to keep Lyles' sickness from spreading through the rest of the team. With only six and a half weeks left in the season, every practice or game is magnified with each player in the sickness/injury category.
It’s kind of crazy how the season has unfolded starting back in August with the exhibition tour in the Bahamas where the Calipari Platoon Tweak was first introduced to the college basketball world for scrutiny. When first witnessed, most felt cautiously optimistic but absolutely no one would breathe a simple word about 40-0, still too many bad memories in the back of Big Blue Nation’s head from last year. Then the Cats posted a 5-1 record in the Bahamas and a little optimism started to spread but still many were cautious about the 10-man rotation through the platoon system. Fast forward to mid-December and all of a sudden many think the Magic Carpet ride of a perfect season is possible.
Then bump in the road No. 1 happens and Alex Poythress, who arguably was playing his best basketball since he’s been wearing Blue and White, blows out his ACL and is pronounced done for the season. No problem the platoon system is re-tweaked to a nine- and sometimes eight-man rotation and the Magic Carpet ride continues on. Now bump in the road No. 2 crops up and freshman PF Trey Lyles comes down with mysterious sickness that evidently is contagious due to his separation from the team during practices/games.
Now I ask you what would have been your train of thought or projected record for this UK team back in August if you had known that Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles had both missed a combined six games at the same time at this point in the season with Poythress having missed eight to ten himself going into mid-February.
Raise your hand if you said the Cats would be 23-0 going into Valentine Day’s weekend with all the above scenarios unfolding since the Bahamas trip and to add to that freshman Devin Booker would be .08 ppg from being the team's leading scorer. To date, the Cats have two double figure scorers. Sophomore guard Aaron Harrison leads the squad with 11.5 points followed closely by Booker at 10.7 points with nine players averaging between 11.5 and 5.5 ppg.
With all of the above now behind u, isn’t it crazy to think the real fun is still in front of us?
Is SEC Men’s Basketball Getting Better?
At the beginning of the SEC season the first week of January, there were many college basketball gurus, especially across the south, who pondered thoughts due to a few somewhat surprising non-conference wins in December that the SEC was starting that climb back up to respectability across college basketball.
Maybe so, but I counter with the last few weeks' ugly losses by LSU to two severely inept college basketball teams like Mississippi State and Auburn at home plus Ole Miss is 15-7 but three of those seven losses were to Charleston Southern, Dayton, and WKU at home where they blew a 16-point lead. There are four SEC teams headed for losing seasons and three other teams just a game above or below .500 who may very well end up on the downside of .500.
My final point is we are on the brink of having two different SEC teams (Florida and UK) in two consecutive seasons of running the table to a perfect 18-0 regular season with those two teams being the kingpins of southern hoops for over a decade now (except for the Gillispie disaster).
In closing, I just can’t see where SEC basketball is any better off top to bottom with two different teams running the table two years in a row. My guess is, with a little luck, UK, Arkansas, Texas A & M, and LSU will make the Big Dance with Georgia and Ole Miss hanging very delicately on the bubble. If anybody else makes a post season tourney, it will be the NIT or CBI. But that’s just my opinion.
You can go online to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more coverage of UK sports as well as KHSAA basketball and football or follow me on Twitter at @combsbrothers5.