Critical stretch for Wildcats

Kentucky sits at the number 11 spot in the polls and has a record of 16-5 so far this season. While things look good on the surface, problems could be arising.

Kentucky sits at the number 11 spot in the polls and has a record of 16-5 so far this season. While things look good on the surface, problems could be arising.

The Wildcats stand at 4-3 in the SEC after a disappointing loss in Oxford Tuesday night. Winning at Mississippi was important for the young Wildcat team because they had already lost two games in the conference and look at a four game stretch that could see them fall under .500 for the SEC slate.

Today Kentucky travels to Florida to take on the SEC East leading Gators. Florida has a strong inside game and a dangerous group of perimeters players.

Kentucky has struggled stopping the inside offense of many opponents this season, especially physical teams like Georgia and Alabama. Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus have been through the SEC battles and are both physical players on the inside, not to mention Erik Murphy's contributions from the bench.

What makes the Gators even more troubling is the perimeter shooting. Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and swing man Chandler Parsons can all make the three-point shot and cause problems on the outside for the Wildcats.

Should Kentucky lose this game, they would stand at 4-4 going into what will be an emotionally charged game against conference foe Tennessee on Tuesday. The Vols will be welcoming back Bruce Pearl to the bench for his first SEC game and they will get up for their much-maligned head coach.

Kentucky follows up the Florida and Tennessee games with a game at Vanderbilt and a game at home against Mississippi State. Both of these teams gave the Wildcats fits last season at times and each of them is capable of pulling out a victory over Kentucky.

It's unlikely that Kentucky does drop all of these games, but if they did, they would be firmly on the NCAA Bubble and at 4-7 in the conference, they would need to win out to get even a decent seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats must find leadership on the court from juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. Both Miller and Liggins have shown flashes of being able to step up and lead this team to the next level, but they need to do it consistently.

Unfortunately the Wildcats have to heavily rely on freshmen like Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb to get them started each game. These players, while talented, have struggled coming out early in games and imposing their will. Once they realize they have to play at a high level the minute they step on the court, this team will be difficult to defeat.

While I don't forsee an NIT bid with this team, I do expect this group will wind up with a less than desirable seed in the NCAA Tournament because of their mid-season slump. But the Wildcats should turn it on in the coming weeks and be a tough out in the NCAA.


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