I don’t know if you have heard, but Kentucky is the last undefeated team in men’s college basketball. We will be following the Wildcats on a game-by-game basis for the rest of the regular season, offering previews and predictions for each matchup. Today, we look at Kentucky’s rematch with Arkansas in the SEC conference tournament final.
Arkansas, led by SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis, is one of the few teams that, on paper, has a combination of traits that could make them a threat to Kentucky. With relentless defensive pressure and a sweep of the Wildcats in 2014, there was a sneaking suspicion that the Razorbacks could play the role of giant-killers when the two teams met in Lexington last month.
With Andrew Harrison and Trey Lyles leading the way, Kentucky led wire-to-wire and at one point held a 31-point lead in the 84-67 win. It was a boring game (unless you are a member of Big Blue Nation) after a week of hype, and now the two teams will face off against in Nashville for the SEC conference tournament championship.
At times there may have been reasons to question Kentucky’s motivation. There have been stretches in conference play where the Wildcats have appeared bored or looked slow to get in a rhythm, but each time that has happened they respond with a spurt that puts away the opposition. According to NCAA VP Dan Gavitt, Kentucky could lose to Arkansas and still hold the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. So what is there to lose?
I don’t think the pursuit of perfection is on the mind of this Kentucky team, but I also don’t expect motivation to be an issue. The friendly competition within the locker room; nine players working together to feed the hot hand, and the relaxation that must come with knowing the team’s success is not dependent on one person, has created a free and fun-loving vibe around the Wildcats. Why wouldn’t you be motivated to win when winning so much fun?
When you’re just happy to see your teammate get his. pic.twitter.com/ealBe2dIV1
— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) March 14, 2015
So now, we take a look at the final game the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats will play before taking the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament on Sunday night.
Arkansas vs. Kentucky
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Bridgeston Arena; Nashville (SEC Tournament)
Problem for the Wildcats: Bobby Portis. Portis did not have a great game against Georgia, missing his first six field goal attempts and finishing with just four points. There is no way that he is that cold again on Sunday. Portis was 6-for-11 from the field in the first meeting between these teams and finished with 15 points but it did not come easy. Even though the matchup against Kentucky’s front line is intimidating, Portis is the best individual talent Arkansas can throw at the platoons and hope for the best.
Kentucky goes 34-0 if: Andrew Harrison continues to play the way he has, breaking Arkansas’ pressure and opening up the floor with his dribble penetration. After a slow start against Florida earlier in the week, Kentucky rights itself against Arkansas by coming out the gate fast and force the Razorbacks to press on offense. I could keep listing different scenarios and we could fill in names like it’s a Mad Lib, but no one has time for that. Kentucky is deep and playing well, giving them so many different ways to win its first SEC tournament title since 2011.
Kentucky goes 33-1 if: Kentucky turns the ball over often and Arkansas, a decent three-point shooting team, catches fire from outside. The Razorbacks are a team that play with a chip on their shoulder, and maybe they catch UK cruising into the game after a scrimmage against Auburn.
Prediction: Kentucky 77, Arkansas 65