SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Wildcats Staring at Tough Regular Season Finish
If you know anything about the great state of Kentucky, you know that the Bluegrass State is known worldwide for its unreal beauty, prized thoroughbreds, and the best bourbon anywhere.
With the way the Kentucky Wildcats have been playing recently, Cat fans both far and near have no doubt been tipping bottles of the renowned elixir to drown their frustrations.
With the Cats' latest performance, a 61-59 loss to Tennessee Tuesday night at Rupp Arena, UK dropped to 17-7 overall and 6-5 in SEC play. Since the Cats also lost 76-65 in Knoxville back in January, they have become a very erratic basketball team, going 5-5 in that span. The Cats are capable of solid execution and grit (see the 83-76 win over No. 7 West Virginia) and at the same time capable of maddening inconsistency, poor decision making, and bad attitude (see the 69-60 loss to Missouri.)
To put it bluntly, the current version of this Kentucky team is...mediocre.
Look at simple wins and losses. The Cats are 17-7; most projected 10, 11, and 12 seeds for the NCAA tournament are, too. UK is 6-5 in SEC play; again, mediocrity. Kentucky is 5-5 in their last ten games; you guessed it, mediocrity.
But as other teams are stepping on the gas and sprinting into the postseason, the Cats are backpedaling. Stats guru Ken Pomeroy projects Kentucky to be 21-10 (10-8 SEC) when the Big Dance starts, putting the Cats squarely on the tournament bubble.
Unfortunately for BBN, the remaining SEC schedule is a minefield in the dark for the Cats. To finish the regular season, UK must travel to Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas, and Florida and host Alabama, Mizzou, and Ole Miss. Ouch.
It is improbable that Kentucky somehow shores up their inabilities, go 7-0 and roll into March Madness. The Cats are who they are. Defensively, the Cats haven’t been bad at all, holding their last ten opponents to around 70 points per game. The Cats have also rebounded well, averaging 32 boards per contest.
The problem is the offense. UK struggles to shoot the ball from distance, share the rock, and will turn it over at really bad times. Of 350 teams in Division I, the Cats are 262nd in three-point shooting percentage and 342nd in three pointers made. More telling of the struggles of the offense is the lack of ball movement. Also, UK is 192nd in assists this season, which is far below expectations for a John Calipari- coached team that usually relies on for success. Another telling stat for the struggling Cat offense is turnover margin. The Cats are 273rd in the country in this area. When Calipari states after the Mizzou loss, he “can’t find five guys to pass the ball to each other,” you have problems, serious problems.
When you combine these combustible elements and a difficult remaining schedule, it’s easy to see that Big Blue is in for a fight. Hopefully, the Cats figure things out and get some badly needed energy and confidence heading into March. But there is the possibility they continue to spin their tires in the mud and things go from bad to worse.
Only time will tell. For now, you may just need to invest in a good bottle of bourbon and stay on the ride a little longer.
Shane Shackleford is a contributing writer for several media outlets. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, Facebook, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.