Kentucky is back in action Saturday afternoon and after the debacle that took place at LSU, this is a MUST win for this team. I'm not going to talk about the loss to LSU, I'd like to pretend that didn't happen. I never thought I'd say this about this team, but a loss at Missouri and another trip to the NIT is NOT out of the question.
The Cats have only ONE quality win (over Louisville) and that came at Rupp, so to say they need to win Saturday goes without saying. Kentucky will have to play a near perfect game to pull of this win on the road, it will NOT be easy. Instead of boring you by saying how much they need this win (and they need it in the worst way) I'm just going to move things along quickly here....
For those of you that are not familiar with the Tigers, here's some info to get you a little better prepared for Saturday...
LOCATION: Columbia, Missouri
COLORS: Black/M U Gold
MASCOT: Truman the Tiger
Tom Berenger - Actor
Sheryl Crow - Musician
Jon Hamm - Actor
Brad Pitt - Actor; One credit short of graduating with a degree in journalism
Tennessee Williams - Playwright (Cat On a Hot Tin Roof)
Evan Bourne - WWE
Carl Edwards - NASCAR
Pat Forde - Every Kentucky fan knows who this guy is and no doubt he'll be there Saturday
Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash - WMD scientist for Saddam Hussein; one of the 50 most wanted Iraqis post-coalition invasion
This is usually the part where I continue to tell you how badly Kentucky needs this win, but I'm gonna skip it because you already know. Instead, we are going to jump straight to how these two teams stack up to one another...
THE GAME BY THE NUMBERS:
PPG: 75 80
RPG: 39 42
APG: 11 12
SPG: 5 5
BPG: 4 7
TPG: 13 13
FG%: 46 47
FT%: 72 67
3P%: 36 32
I've taken the liberty of highlighting potential problem areas for the Cats Saturday. They simply CANNOT turn the ball over at the rate (13 turnovers) they did against LSU and expect to win. They have got to a better job of rebounding the ball and not give up multiple offensive rebounds. Free-throws is something that has plagued this team all season long and something they'll have to do a better job at on Saturday. Finally, GUARD THE THREE. Sure 36% from deep isn't a staggering number, but Missouri has a couple of guys who can flat fill it up from deep. The Cats will have to close out on shooters quick with hands up, otherwise things could get ugly in a hurry.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Jabari Brown - 20ppg, FG% 50, FT% 77, 3P% 47
Jordan Clarkson - 18ppg, 1.4 spg, FG% 46, FT% 80
Earnest Ross - 14.5 ppg, FG% 43, FT% 79, 3P% 30.5
The Cats will have to contain these three to have a chance in Columbia. If one or more of these guys have their way, then look out.
Missouri is one SEC foe that Kentucky doesn't have a very long history with, mostly due to the fact that the Tigers are newcomers to the conference. But, here is the series history anyway...
Like I said, there's not a very big history between these two schools. The first game between the two took place in 1960 with the Cats winning 81-69. The Cats and Tigers have played a total of five times with Kentucky winning all five meetings. The last meeting was last season in Rupp Arena with Kentucky winning in overtime 90-83.
At the beginning of the season hopes and expectations were high, maybe too high. But I never thought that this particular team would be struggling so late in the season. Sure I thought that early in the season they would have some kinks to work out, but I never dreamed that they would be needing a win at Missouri to save their post season hopes because that's exactly what is happening. Does a loss in Columbia spell NIT? NO. But a loss makes it more difficult than it should be going forward. A loss would mean that Kentucky may possibly have to win out to avoid a very low seed or possibly missing the tournament all together. All you have to do is look at the remaining schedule.
Dates with Florida (twice), Ole Miss (twice) and a return game with LSU in Rupp. That is NOT an easy schedule if you're struggling like this team is. On the up side, Missouri also lost to LSU on the road 77-71, so maybe that's a good sign. At this point, I'll take any good omen we can get.
See you Saturday after what is hopefully a win...