UK Men's Basketball

John Clay: Underdogs real threat to a 40-0 season for Kentucky

Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison, left, fights for a rebound with Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell in the second half. Kentucky won 58-50.

The University of Louisville hosted the University of Kentucky, Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014 at Yum Center in Louisville. 

Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison, left, fights for a rebound with Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell in the second half. Kentucky won 58-50. The University of Louisville hosted the University of Kentucky, Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014 at Yum Center in Louisville. Photo by Jonathan Palmer Herald-Leader

Kansas couldn't do it.

Providence couldn't do it.

Texas couldn't do it.

North Carolina couldn't do it.

UCLA couldn't do it.

Louisville couldn't do it.

The biggest names on the Kentucky basketball schedule couldn't bring down the undefeated and top-ranked Wildcats.

That's because against the best teams, Kentucky has played its best, rising to the occasion each and every time, whether it be in Indianapolis (Kansas) or Chicago (UCLA) or Rupp Arena (Providence, Texas and North Carolina) or the Yum Center (Louisville).

On the flip side, Bobby Hurley-coached Buffalo led the Cats 38-33 at the half. Boston University was within two points, 46-44, of Kentucky with 16 minutes to play in Rupp Arena. Columbia led Kentucky 11-0 out of the gate and 34-33 with 15 minutes left.

The data hints at an interesting conclusion.

If there is a team that can keep Kentucky from an unbeaten regular season — and that's a large "if" — it won't be a recognizable, marquee named outfit. Those are the teams and games the Cats have proven to be more than prepared to play.

Instead, the team that upsets Kentucky will be the team that sneaks up on Kentucky, the team that catches the Cats napping, the team that plays out of its minds on the same night Kentucky isn't in the right frame of mind.

It's the team UK overlooks.

And the SEC has a lot of teams to overlook.

During his post-game press conference at the Yum Center, UK Coach John Calipari was using his best public relations skills to pump up the conference's round ball reputation, saying it ranked No. 2 in the RPI. Actually, Real Time RPI has the SEC at No. 3 behind the Big 12 and Big East.

Computer wizards Jeff Sagarin and Ken Pomeroy each have the SEC at No. 5. Sagarin has it Big 12, Big East, Big 10, ACC, followed by the SEC. Pomeroy puts the Big 12 first followed by ACC, Big 10, Big East and SEC.

The league is not as bad as its detractors would have you believe, including the voters in the AP poll.

While the conference has taken some bad losses, other conferences have, as well. Wake Forest lost to Delaware State. Texas Tech lost to Loyola (Illinois). Indiana lost at home to Eastern Washington. Just to name a few.

The SEC is the same league, after all, that put three teams in the Sweet 16 last year — Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. Florida and Tennessee are not as good as they were last season, but there are plenty of conference teams that appear to be improved.

South Carolina has a 26-point win over Oklahoma State and a 23-point win over Clemson. Georgia has wins over Colorado and Seton Hall. LSU is the only team to have beaten West Virginia on the road. Arkansas' only two losses were on the road.

If Billy Donovan ever gets all his Gators healthy and on the right page, Florida has a chance to be a formidable force by crunch time.

The question is, after hearing for so long how bad the SEC supposedly is in basketball, will Kentucky be prepared to play the lesser lights on its schedule?

We're not talking the teams at the bottom of the conference who will be overwhelmed by UK's talent, but the teams who might have at least a fighting chance to keep it interesting.

"Every game we're someone's Super Bowl," Calipari is fond of saying. "The students will be lined up hours before the game."

The longer the streak goes, the bigger the target Kentucky becomes.

I go back to something Pikeville Coach Kelly Wells said after the Bears played Kentucky in the season's first exhibition game.

"They've got to not get fat and happy," Wells said of the Cats. "They have to be hungry every night."

Easy to say, hard to do.

Going by what's happened so far, the team that takes down Kentucky won't be the big name on the big stage.

It'll be the prohibitive underdog the Cats take too much for granted.

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