Kentucky’s trip through the SEC 2016-17 basketball schedule was expected to be a cakewalk, but after two games we expected the cake to offer a little more resistance.
Last week, John Calipari’s Cats were inspired enough by Mississippi’s new digs at The Pavilion to administer a 23-point rout of Andy Kennedy’s Rebels in the SEC opener.
Back home Tuesday at Rupp Arena, Kentucky drained 13 three-pointers, forced Texas A&M into 25 turnovers and administered a 100-58 trouncing of Billy Kennedy’s Aggies.
So while Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA and Indiana were losing their conference openers, Kentucky was taking a blowtorch to its first two league opponents by a combined 65 points.
Only Ashley Judd, who objects to the Chick-fil-A promotion at Rupp involving fans rooting for the opponents to miss consecutive free throws in the name of a free chicken biscuit, has been unimpressed.
“I thought we would play better,” said Billy Kennedy after his team’s torching.
Granted, A&M is not the team that reached last year’s Sweet 16 a year ago. Still, the Aggies aren’t awful. Before Tuesday, they were 8-4, with a win over now-ranked Virginia Tech and losses to UCLA, Arizona and Southern Cal.
Plus, four of the last five Kentucky-Texas A&M meetings needed five extra minutes to decide a winner. Tuesday night’s game needed all of five minutes. After a Texas A&M three-pointer, Kentucky reeled off 15 straight points, thanks in large part to six straight Aggie turnovers. Ball game.
“I want to give as much credit as possible to Kentucky,” said Kennedy, who added, “We weren’t very good.”
“Not very good” is the national perception of SEC hoops — Big Blue aside — and with good reason. CBS Sports has the SEC sixth in its conference rankings. Jeff Sagarin’s computer is more charitable, placing the SEC fifth.
True, we’ve just turned the page on the calendar, but it’s hard to see any league member keeping things close in Rupp, much less shocking the Cats. Florida, ranked 25th and off to a 2-0 SEC start, is the best bet when it pays a visit Feb. 25. File that under a definite maybe.
As for road trips, the Cats visit the newly renovated O’Connell Center in Gainesville on Feb. 4. That could be tricky. Georgia welcomes Kentucky to Athens on Feb. 18, and any team with Yante Maten in the middle and J.J. Frazier on the wing is dangerous.
There’s also the year-end return date in College Station with the Aggies, who should be anxious to show more fight than they did in Rupp. But can they?
Besides, you slay them one a time. Arkansas is next up in the Rupp dunk tank Saturday night. Before the Razorbacks lost to visiting Florida last week, you could argue the Hogs were the second-best team in the SEC. To its credit, Mike Anderson’s club rebounded to beat Tennessee 82-78 in Knoxville on Tuesday.
The Hogs did so with poise under pressure. Arkansas made 11 of 12 free throws in the final 1:31 to hold off a UT rally. Daryl Macon was 8-for-8 from the stripe in the final 54 seconds as Arkansas won back-to-back games at Thompson Boling for the first time in its history.
Given recent results, however, few expect Saturday’s game to be that tight. Sagarin’s numbers show a 10-point separation between Kentucky and Arkansas, and that’s on a neutral floor. The Las Vegas line will likely be higher.
In other words, unless something unexpected happens, the league’s “gold standard” program figures to have its conference cake served on a gold plate.
Last 10 Kentucky-Arkansas games
Nashville (SEC Tourney)