Chasing perfection: Kentucky puts 29-0 record on the line at Georgia

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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 final road game of the regular season, at Georgia on Tuesday night.

Here we are, previewing Kentucky’s final road game of the season. Tuesday night’s primetime showdown at Georgia , in front of a sold out crowd in Stegeman Coliseum, was one of three or four games circled on the schedule as a potential loss for the top-ranked Wildcats. Unless Florida makes some tremendous strides forward — we’re talking Olympic-record setting leaps — then Tuesday night might be the only chance for you to see Kentucky lose a regular season game. That kind of appointment viewing hasn’t happened often in the SEC, so you can bet the entire nation will be tuned in to see how John Calipari’s young, but ridiculously talented, team performs in their first of what will likely be many games in the month of March.

Those hoping Kentucky will lose are likely referencing the game at LSU, earlier this season, as a reason to think this juggernaut of a college basketball team will fall. That two-point win was famously the game that Calipari “hoped” his team would lose, after a subpar performance let the Tigers hang around and have an opportunity at the buzzer to pull the upset of the year. But that game seems like a long time ago after the destruction Kentucky has left in its wake over the last couple weeks.

Since the LSU game, Kentucky has beaten its next five opponents (South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn, Mississippi State and Arkansas) by an average of 24.4 points. While the Razorbacks are the only Top 50 team in that bunch, the fact that the Wildcats have taken care of business point to a strong finish to the season — and if you believe Vegas stats correlate to meeting or exceeding expectations, Kentucky has gone 4-0-1 against the spread in that five-game stretch.

So here comes Georgia, a team that pushed Kentucky in the second half but ultimately lost by 11 in the first meeting between these two teams. The Bulldogs were without Marcus Thornton, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, but Trey Lyles did not play in that game either. In fact it was Nemi Djurisic and Yante Maten who had the most significant impact in that game for Georgia, leading an inspired effort on the board that resulted in a 36-24 rebounding advantage.

“They’re a better team, and they’re playing better,” Calipari said of Georgia this week. “Hopefully we’re a better team. We have Trey [Lyles] now. They played a lot of zone last game, and I just don’t know what they’ll do — Mark [Fox] will come up with something. They run their stuff, they’re making shots, they’re going to try and beat us down the floor.

“They’re an NCAA tournament team we’re playing on the road. It’s going to be a hard game for us.”

Georgia has won three straight, beating Alabama and Ole Miss on the road before crushing Missouri at home over the weekend.

Kentucky at Georgia

Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Stegeman Coliseum

Line: Kentucky -10

Problem for the Wildcats: Marcus Thornton. It was encouraging for Georgia to get good play from Djurisic and Maten in the first meeting, but if the Bulldogs are going to pull off the upset then someone has to explode offensively, and no one is more capable than Thornton.

Kentucky goes 30-0 if: The Bulldogs do a good job of penetrating on offense and getting to the free throw line. They are an experienced team that understands how to create good angles and put defenders in bad positions. Don’t pick up dumb fouls early, and Kentucky will find it much easier to defend at the rim in the second half. The Wildcats also need to make sure they don’t get beat in transition. That’s normally an area where Kentucky beats its opponents, so to me this seems more like an attention to detail issue since athleticism is definitely not a concern.

Kentucky goes 29-1 if: One interesting aspect of writing these “Chasing Perfection” posts has been forcing myself to come up with scenarios where Kentucky could lose. It has been an enlightening exercise, in that it has forced me to create a fantasy world that is nowhere close to the one we see on the court. I have laid out the potential pitfalls for the Wildcats before each of the last five games and each time they have absolutely trounced their opposition. I’m a pretty creative guy, but not that creative. Kentucky will win this game.

Prediction: Kentucky 70, Georgia 52

Trey Lyles missed the first Georgia game but should have an impact Tuesday night. (USATSI)

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