Maybe Kentucky’s loss at Tennessee on Saturday is not that big a deal. Maybe nothing will be “wrong” and no one at fault should Kentucky lose more games to Southeastern Conference rivals.
UK Coach John Calipari and several of his colleagues kind of made that case Monday when promoting the quality of SEC basketball this season.
“You could lose six or seven and win the league,” Calipari said. “That’s what it looks like to me.”
The pointed follow-up question is this: Will fan bases (we’re looking at you, Big Blue Nation) accept multiple losses as the inevitable price in playing in a top-flight league?
“That’s an interesting question,” Georgia Coach Mark Fox said. “You’re going to get beat some. It’s just going to happen. There’s just too many good people you have to play against, and too many good atmospheres you have to go in and encounter.
“I hope our fan bases are educated enough to know you’re going to get a couple of ‘Ls’ because of the quality of the league. I don’t think that should really impact the perception of how good your team is.”
Fox suggested that the Kentucky fan base might be the “least patient” in the SEC. But patience will be required.
“This is a conference where I think you’re going to see us beat up on each other a good bit,” Fox said.
The coaches touted the good players and fellow coaches in the SEC. Half the league teams were either in The Associated Press’ top 25 (No. 21 Kentucky, No. 22 Auburn, No. 24 Tennessee) or received votes (Florida, Texas A&M, Georgia, Arkansas).
LSU’s first-year coach, Will Wade, chuckled when asked if a fan base would accept six or seven losses. He suggested that 13-5 might be a good enough record to win the SEC. “I don’t think fan bases are very patient …,” he said.
But patience and perspective might be the path to a championship.
“The team that wins it is going to be the team that can manage the ebbs and flows,” Wade said. “(the team that) can manage the ups and downs, and make sure that losing one game doesn’t beat them twice.”
Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy suggested that SEC fans overreact to losses.
“They have a football mentality,” he said. “If you lose one or two, the sky’s falling. But they don’t realize you play 18 (games).”
Kennedy said that a team might finish with a .500 league record and receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson recalled his mentor, Nolan Richardson, saying that breaking even on the road and winning home games was the way to a championship.
Looking ahead, Anderson imagined a wide-open, anything-can-happen SEC Tournament.
“It’s exciting for college basketball, especially in the SEC with teams being so competitive,” he said. “Parity is here.”
With injuries, suspensions and illness, Texas A&M has not been able to develop team chemistry, Coach Billy Kennedy said.
“Probably the hardest thing, and the thing people don’t realize,” he said. The lack of chemistry can be reflected in quick shots, other ill-advised decisions and players out of position.
“One of our biggest struggles is putting five guys on the court who played a lot together and had success together in what we’re doing,” Kennedy said.
Leading scorer DJ Hogg, a 47.9-percent three-point shooter, came back from a three-game suspension last weekend against LSU.
Three starters — Admon Gilder (knee), Duane Wilson (knee) and Robert Williams (flu) missed the LSU game Saturday. A&M said Gilder and Williams will play against UK, but Wilson will not.
Earlier this season, freshmen Savion Flagg (fractured orbital bone) and Isiah Jasey (concussion) missed games.
Williams, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season, missed two earlier games because of a concussion.
In a preseason poll, the media voted Texas A&M to finish third in the SEC. The Aggies have gone 0-3 in league play. Kennedy noted that Arizona and Florida lost three straight earlier in the season. “Just because we lost three in a row doesn’t mean we can’t get to where we want to go by the end of the year,” he said.
Hogg agreed. “Every game right now is important for us because we’re 0-3,” he said. “We need every win we can get.”
The road will not be easy this week. The Aggies play at Tennessee this weekend.
“Let these two be the two to start off our winning streak,” Hogg said.
▪ PJ Washington, who missed the last 12 1/2 minutes of the Cats’ loss to Tennessee, said the cramps that sidelined him were in his thigh and that it was not a big deal.
“I’ve been cramping my whole life so it’s nothing new to me,” he said. “I’m not worried about it. I’ll be fine.”
He said it was “disappointing” to not be able to return to the game Saturday.
“You just want to help your team out a little bit,” he said. “But it’s over now and I just have to focus on the next opponent.”
▪ Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas and sideline reporter Laura Rutledge will call the game for ESPN.