Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kentucky 85 - 63 Mississippi St. (No. 2,122)

First, the score by quarters:

1st:  Mississippi St. 20, Kentucky 14 (MSU actually led 18-8 with 11:33 left in the 1st half)
2d:  Kentucky 23, Mississippi St. 20 (MSU led 40-37 at the half)
3d:  Kentucky 25, Mississippi St. 11 (UK led 62-51 with 10 minutes to go)
4th:  Kentucky 23, Mississippi St. 12 (UK won 85-63)

There was, as you can imagine, a great deal of angst on the UK message boards when the Cats -- who hadn't played a game in 11 days -- immediately fell behind a very weak Mississippi State team.  However, it should be noted that over the last thirty minutes of the game, the Cats throttled the Bulldogs 71-43, which is a pace that should satisfy even the most ravenous fan.

The Harrisons struggled last night, going a combined 2-6 from two-point range, 1-6 from three-point range,  6-9 from the line, for only 13 points.  But the rest of the team played very well.  James Young got the most attention with 26 points and 10 rebounds.  Julius Randle had 14 rebounds to go along with 8 points.  (The Cats out-rebounded MSU by 44-28).  Alex Poythress had 12 points and 4 rebounds in only 22 minutes, including an array of alley-oop dunks.  Willie Cauley-Stein had 12 points and 4 rebounds in only 25 minutes.  And Dakari Johnson had 8 points (on 4-4 shooting) in only 8 minutes.

Add it all up and the Cats did almost exactly as Ken Pomeroy predicted (he said they would win 82-61, not far from the final score).  UK is now Ken Pom's 14-ranked team, and he still has them ranked as the top team in the SEC.  Their biggest problem remains defensive efficiency, where they are 39th in the country (they are seventh in offensive efficiency).  Their defense got off to a poor start last night, giving up 40 points in the first half.  But we will hope that was just rust -- they were much better in the second half.

For now, therefore, the UK fan base is relatively calm.  But this may not last long.  UK has three very difficult games coming up:

On Saturday, the Cats travel to Vandy for the Dores biggest game of the year.  Ken Pom gives UK a 73 percent chance of victory.

On Tuesday, UK will be in Fayetteville to play a Razorback team that can be devastating at home.  Last year, the Razorbacks crushed UK in Fayetteville.  Ken Pom gives UK a 61 percent chance of victory, but I will be shocked if the Cats win this game.

And then next Saturday (January 18), the Cats will be home to face a red-hot Tennessee team.  The Vols are 10-4, they've won four straight, and they just crushed LSU by 18 points in Baton Rouge.  Ken Pom gives UK a 68 percent chance of winning.

Add it all up, and there is only a 30.3 percent chance that the Cats will win all three games.  Personally, I would take a 2-1 split right now -- I'm afraid UK will be swept at Vandy and Arkansas, and then face UT in a crisis atmosphere.  But whatever happens, we will know a lot more about this year's Kentucky team by the end of next week.