Mark Story: Florida most likely opponent to hand UK a loss

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 6, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

Last month, John Calipari stated several times that he felt his team would benefit from a defeat. Of course, with coaches, you never know if you are getting an honest assessment or a motivational ploy.

What we do know for sure is that the TV-mandated back loading of the Southeastern Conference hoops schedule means the high-flying Cats are going to spend February actually facing some gnarly tests.

Kentucky has won 15 men's basketball games in a row. If UK were to win the 2012 NCAA championship without losing another game, it would mean the Wildcats finish the season on a 31-game winning streak.

For the Cats, is winning out realistic — or even desirable?

On a scale of zero (no shot of a Cats loss) to 10 (certain UK defeat), here is a "threat assessment" of the remaining Kentucky games, starting with the least to worry about:

Georgia (March 1, Rupp Arena)

Record: 10-12 (1-7 SEC)

Why they could threaten Kentucky: The Bulldogs are the last team to beat UK in Rupp Arena (a 90-85 defeat in the final regular-season home game of the 2008-09 season).

Why they won't threaten Kentucky: NBA Draft early entrants Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie are on the L.A. Clippers bench, not in Mark Fox's lineup.

Chance of putting the 'L' in Wildcats: 0.0000001


Mississippi (Feb. 18, Rupp Arena)

Record: 14-8 (4-4 SEC)

Why they could threaten Kentucky: The Rebels aren't bad, and they beat the Cats last season in Oxford.

Why they won't threaten Kentucky: The game isn't at Mississippi and Andy Kennedy's crew is 3-5 in true road games.

Chance of putting the 'L' in Wildcats: 0.25.


Florida (Feb. 7, Rupp Arena)

Record: 19-4 (7-1 SEC)

Why they could threaten Kentucky: The guard-oriented Gators hit 10 three-pointers in beating Florida State, and 11 treys each in victories over Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Teams that can shoot the three ball always have a puncher's chance.

Why they won't threaten Kentucky: Billy Donovan's lads are 2-4 in true road contests and have already lost on the home court of elite-level teams Ohio State and Syracuse — neither of which is as talented as Kentucky.

Chance of putting the 'L' in Wildcats: 2


Vanderbilt (Feb. 25, Rupp Arena)

Record: 16-7 (5-3 SEC)

Why they could threaten Kentucky: The Commodores have all five starters back from the team that lost to UK by only two in Rupp last season.

Why they won't threaten Kentucky: Vandy is 4-3 in true road games and, so far, the five returning Commodores starters have not played nearly as well this season as they did a year ago.

Chance of putting the 'L' in Wildcats: 2.5


at Mississippi State (Feb. 21, Humphrey Coliseum)

Record: 18-5 (5-3)

Why they could threaten Kentucky: In veteran point guard Dee Bost and talented big men Arnett Moultrie and (the unpredictable) Renardo Sidney, the Bulldogs have the components to play with the Cats. After two very close losses to UK in 2009-10 in which Rick Stansbury and crew felt they got the short end of the whistle, the MSU crowd will be stoked for the Blue.

Why they won't threaten Kentucky: Will State be too emotional? Can the Dogs play with the poise it will take to close out the Cats?

Chance of putting the 'L' in Wildcats: 4


at Vanderbilt (Feb. 11, Memorial Gymnasium)

Record: 16-7 (5-3 SEC)

Why they could threaten Kentucky: Upsetting UK is the surest way for Kevin Stallings and Co. to turn the arc of what, so far, has been a disappointing season. UK is 1-4 in its last five trips to Vandy.

Why they won't threaten Kentucky: Shockingly, Vanderbilt has not been nearly as lethal at home as normal. The Commodores have already lost four games (Cleveland State, Xavier, Indiana State, Mississippi State) in Memorial Gym.

Chance of putting the 'L' in Wildcats: 4.25.


at Florida (March 4, O'Connell Center)

Record: 19-4 (7-1 SEC)

Why they could threaten Kentucky: If the season goes as expected, UK will travel to Gainesville with the SEC regular-season title in hand and an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed all but locked up. If Kentucky is going to have a "flat game" or a "let's take a loss" contest (see Rick Pitino and the 1996 SEC Tournament finals), the regular-season finale could be it.

Why they won't threaten Kentucky: What makes Florida dangerous — its reliance on three-point shooting — also makes the Gators vulnerable if they aren't hitting.

Threat of hanging an 'L' on UK: 4.5.

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