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IRA COMBS: UK's Toughest Test Remaining in Regular Season May Be Arkansas


By Ira D. Combs

Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.

Now that we’ve survived the blizzard of 2015, or at least I think we have the worst part of it behind us, the Commonwealth’s sports fans can get back to closely following their beloved Kentucky Wildcats march toward what hopefully will be a history-making undefeated season and 9th NCAA championship.

UK is still a perfect 27-0 as we enter the last week of February and have once again garnered all votes from the national media and set perched high on top of the totem poll as the No. 1 kingpin of college basketball.

This week’s two hurdles to jump are at MSU Wednesday in Starkville, Miss., at Humphrey Coliseum (7:00 EST, SEC Network) -- which should be one of those nagging wins that isn’t sealed until midway of the second half -- and then Saturday back in Rupp Arena (4:00 EST, CBS) where the Cats will host a solid Arkansas team which could have this year's SEC player of the year in 6-11 sophomore Bobby Portis, who is averaging 17.9 ppg and 8.8 rpg. The No. 18 Razorbacks, who are in second place in the SEC along with an overall record of 22-5, pretty much have a lock on an NCAA bid to the Big Dance with hopes of building a higher seed as they go down the home stretch.

No new news to report this week of a serious nature injury-wise with any of the UK players although Coach Cal mentioned in his pre-Auburn press conference that Tyler Ulis has some nagging knee/leg problems that he would like to address with some time off but it’s simply too late in the season to go that route with his type of injury. And after having a meeting with Ulis, Cal said it was decided to just fight through the pain and take care of it after the season. Several members of the media have noticed that Willie Cauley-Stein is slightly favoring his foot/ankle that was operated on during the off season early last summer after fracturing it in the NCAA tourney run. However, it doesn’t appear to be more than just a tinge of pain or discomfort that has built up from the wear and tear of the long hoops season and the favoring doesn’t seem to show much until deep into the game usually around midway of the second half.

With only four games left in the regular season, UK can clinch a tie for first place in the SEC with a win at MSU Wednesday and clinch the outright conference regular season crown with a win over Arkansas Saturday since the Razorbacks already have three losses on the year in SEC play. The reason I bring this out is that the SEC No. 1 seed for the conference tournament in Nashville at the Bridgestone Arena won’t have to play until 1:00 p.m. ET on Friday the week of the tournament.

Upon Further Review SEC Stronger Than Appeared

Unlike a coach or an official, a sports columnist can correct himself after the fact and I definitely stand corrected on this matter. Earlier this month I went on a short and weak rant about the SEC getting a little too much love from some corners of college basketball and that it appeared to me the competitive strength wasn’t any better than previous years. This was just a few days after a couple ugly late December and early January non-conference losses by SEC teams. Upon further review and having played deeper into the season, it appears the SEC will have three solid participants in March Madness with the distinct possibility of having six when Selection Sunday is all said and done. If three teams -- LSU, Ole Miss and Georgia -- don’t stub their toes these last two weeks nor in the SEC tourney, they should garner a bid, while Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas A&M should already have a resume that will please the NCAA Selection Committee.

You can go online to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more coverage of UK sports and KHSAA sports. You can also follow me on my relatively new Twitter account @combsbrothers5.

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