ST. LOUIS, MO — Kentucky is a win away from melting your minds. Tennessee better be playing in Nashville or else the NCAA really is non-profit. Here are some of my thoughts from a less than enthusing semifinal Saturday from the SEC Tournament in the SEC Starting Five:
1. Kentucky continued to do their thing catching an Alabama playing their third game in as many days, and it showed. The Wildcats cruised to an 86-63 beatdown of the Crimson Tide. The win puts Kentucky back into the SEC Tournament final where they’ll look to win their fourth straight conference championship. There is little doubt that this team is improving by the day and setting itself up for success come next week. The Wildcats have been stout defensively, holding Alabama to 19 points in the first half, and have received contributions from the bench, 31 bench points vs Bama. The only concern has been the rebounding minus Jarred Vanderbilt, who continues to nurse an ankle injury. Bama outrebounded the Cats 31-27 and 13-1 on the offensive boards.
2. Two crazy stats for Kentucky: 1) Wenyen Gabriel shot 7 for 7 from three. Kentucky has struggled shooting from behind the arc but got the performance it needed from an unlikely source. Gabriel has always been capable outside shooter. That being said, no one could’ve or would’ve predicted this level of output. 2) UK shot an absurd 84 percent in the second half. In basketball that’s essentially going perfect from the floor.
3. Alabama is now 19-15, 7-10 vs Quadrant 1 opponents and has an RPI of 36. I still believe that the Crimson Tide should be safely into the tournament. There’s a chance given their strength of schedule, which is now up to No. 3 in the nation, that the Tide, like Vanderbilt a year ago, could avoid the First Four in Dayton. If not, Avery Johnson and his ballclub are going to have a quick turnaround as they could play on either Tuesday or Wednesday. The concern isn’t so much the attrition that they went through in St. Louis, in terms of the number of minutes guys like Collin Sexton player, rather the health of center Donta Hall, who missed Saturday’s semifinal due to a concussion.
4. Tennessee played a brutal offensive game against Mississippi State on Friday night. The Vols shot 33 percent and only scored 62 points in the win. There was a little to no chance that they’d follow up with another stinker. The Vol shot 76 percent in the first half against Arkansas, making 7 of 8 three-point shots. Jordan Bone definitely played his best half of basketball of the season. The Nashville native was a near perfect 7 of 8 from the field, including 3 of 3 from behind the arc, leading UT with 18 in the half. For added context, Bone hadn’t scored that many points in a game since the January 2 loss to Auburn in Knoxville. James Daniel was actually perfect making all three of his 3-point attempts and both of his free throws for 11 first half points.
5. Overall, I was bored. Alternative programming was enacted during both games. I watched North Carolina Central book their ticket to the dance, while also taking in some Atlantic 10 Tournament action. Fun stuff.
6. My apologies to Arkansas. Like, Florida and Alabama, I gave them my endorsement a.k.a. the kiss of death and they lost. I still think they can be a major issue next weekend. Oops.
7. Tennessee and Kentucky will meet for the third time this season on Sunday. The Volunteers won both regular season matchups, winning a third would be the first time since 1979, coincidentally the only time the Vols have won the SEC tournament. The win would give the Vols the regular season and tournament crowns in the SEC. Again, the NCAA would be saying no to money if they didn’t put the double SEC champion Vols in Nashville. Kentucky winning would, unfortunately, place 2013-14 expectations on this team heading into the tournament. That comparison has been unfair. To expect this team to go to the Final Four this year just because a team a few years back had a similar regular season is ludicrous. The Wildcats have the talent but are severely flawed. It’s possible that they make a run to San Antonio but that shouldn’t be what Kentucky fans are worried about right now.
For updates throughout the SEC tourney follow me on Twitter, @JulianCouncil.