January 25, 2010
Kentucky is the new No. 1 team in the country. It's the first time in seven years this has happened, and with the amount of pressure and what the state of the program means to those in Lexington, a top spot in the polls will be greeted with more of an "It's about time!" than a "Yay!"
The Wildcats slaughtered the Razorbacks on Saturday, 101-70, to improve to 19-0. UK has had some close calls — barely escaping against the likes of Miami (Ohio), Stanford, North Carolina, UConn — which has led to a rather annoying practice by John Calipari. In a classic case of reverse psychology, Cal has told his team that every close win was a loss.
The phrases "we're 5-4" and "we're 10-8" were often said by Calipari to every media outlet he could find when his team was nine, 18 games into the season. Does it keep his team humbled? Who knows. It wouldn't surprise me if they openly mocked this tactic when he's not around.
What I do know is this team will lose a game. After UK's dominant win, combined with Texas' back-to-back losses, the national media will begin to foolishly speculate if the Wildcats can go undefeated.
It's. Not. Going. To. Happen.
Please don't partake in such nonsense. It happens every season, and it's not worth talking about unless a team reaches The Tournament unblemished.
So ... when will it? In chronological order, here are the three most likely locations a loss will come about. (And here's John Clay's take on when UK can/will lose.)
OLE MISS (Feb. 2). The 15-4 Rebels are a bit of an enigma to most of the country. Andy Kennedy's team is capable of beating the Wildcats, but can they do it in Rupp? That's where this game will be. Ole Miss has three road wins this season, but the best one, statistically, is against 9-8 Georgia. The Rebels did beat Kansas State on a neutral floor this season, so that's a good sign, but if Ole Miss wants to cripple the 'Cats, it's going to have to get a John Wall-type performance out of its poor man's version of John Wall. Chris Warren makes the Rebels go. He might need to shoot the ball better and take Wall out of the mix more than any other player has done.
TENNESSEE (Feb. 13). How badly does Bruce Pearl want to give Kentucky its first quiet walk back to the locker room? He's done it to Calipari before, and it wasn't all that long ago. The scene: Feb. 23, 2008, No. 2 Tennessee defeats No. 1 Memphis, in Memphis, to give the Tigers their first and only loss during the regular season. The Volunteers already knocked off one No. 1 team this season when they gave an inspired performance against Kansas despite having only six scholarship players available.
@ MISSISSIPPI STATE (Feb. 16). If the above two home tilts don't bring an L, perhaps this road test will. What gives MSU the best chance is how it will match up well at just about every position. Mississippi State has terrific talent, specifically with Jarvis Varnado, shot-blocker extraordinaire. He's the best swat man since Okafor, in my opinion. Dee Bost is a terrific sophomore guard who is quick and rebounds well for a guy who is 6-foot-2. The 15-4 Bulldogs get Ole Miss and Auburn at home before ending the troika with UK coming into the building.
If all these three fail, road games against Vanderbilt and Tennessee follow. And, of course, it wouldn't surprise me if Big Blue dropped the game no one saw coming. (Home to Alabama on Feb. 9?)