Mark Story

Mark Story: For Kentucky fans, it's hard to find something to worry about

UK fans showing support as Kentucky defeated Georgia  79-49 on Thursday  March 1, 2012  in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
UK fans showing support as Kentucky defeated Georgia 79-49 on Thursday March 1, 2012 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Inevitability fills the air around the Kentucky Wildcats.

Some numbers geeks from ESPN's Stats and Information Group declare the Cats "the most consistent good team" in the six years they have put out a ratings system they call the Basketball Power Index.

Charles Barkley has already declared UK the national champion.

UK (29-1, 15-0 SEC) looked every bit that Thursday night in Rupp Arena. On Senior Night for Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas, the Cats obliterated Georgia 79-49.

Miller, as promised, did not cry in his Rupp finale. In fact, the Mason County product smiled his way through it, then scored a team-high 17 points.

Little-used Vargas got a first-half bucket, too.

In what had to be frightening for future UK foes, the team whose outside shooting is sometimes questioned put on a long-range clinic against Georgia, going six straight possessions in the second half hitting three-pointers.

It was about then that ESPN's Jay Bilas tweeted "Who said that UK couldn't shoot it. This is an outstanding team ... "

Said UK guard Doron Lamb: "Nobody can beat us if we are on fire like that."

It has long been an essential core of the Kentucky fan experience that, when all seems splendid for the Cats, something must be found to fret about.

Well, worrywarts, get ready for a big challenge as March Madness approaches. It's not going to be easy to find anything to worry about with these Cats.

In the NCAA Tournament, Anthony Davis could get in foul trouble.

The thing that sets apart Kentucky from other elite teams is the shot-blocking and shot-altering presence of Davis. A foul-plagued tourney game for the Chicago product could be a great equalizer.

Except, Davis doesn't foul. Amazingly, the nation's leading shot blocker has committed more than three fouls in a game only four times.

What about a "freshman meltdown" under the klieg lights of the Big Dance?

Two years ago, another excellent Kentucky team with four true freshmen among its top six players collapsed one game short of the Final Four. It wasn't just that John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Co. turned in a horrid 4-for-32 three-point shooting performance against West Virginia. It was that the very young Cats let their bad shooting sink the rest of their game.

My lasting memory of that shocking loss in the Carrier Dome is West Virginia guard Joe Mazzulla driving unimpeded the length of the floor, not once, but twice for uncontested layups.

This year's Kentucky has four true freshmen among its top seven players. But in Miller and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, the current Cats also have three players who played a key role on a Final Four team the season before.

That could — should — immunize the current Cats from the kind of free-fall game that did in the '10 Cats.

Worried about UK's Jones having one of those games — North Carolina last year; Indiana this year — in the tourney?

It could happen.

But Jones is closing out this season on an uptick, having made more than half of his shots 10 times in the past 16 games.

Worried about true freshman point guard Marquis Teague? He has had three or more turnovers in four of Kentucky's last six games.

But he also has 38 assists in the same span and the eye test says he's made dramatic strides from the start of the season.

Bottom line: If Kentucky plays its best game, there's not one team in the country that can beat the Cats.

Still, if you're going to worry about something Cats fans, there is another team that is currently flying somewhat below the radar that is good enough to beat UK even if the Cats play well (but not their best).

That team has the length to compete with Kentucky.

Like UK, that team has multiple projected NBA first-round draft picks on its roster, too.

For its own reasons, that team would have extra incentive against UK.

So after a night when Kentucky looked every bit like a team that deserves the air of championship inevitability building around it, there's only one thing I can come up with that merits worry in the Kingdom of the Blue.

Worry about North Carolina.

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