Two teams from the Southeastern Conference have held the ranking of number one in the nation this season.
Those two teams square off on Saturday in a regular season finale showdown.
The twenty-fifth ranked University of Kentucky Wildcats (22-8, 12-5 SEC) seek to avenge a Feb. 15 loss against the top ranked University of Florida Gators (28-2, 17-0 SEC.)
The Gators enter Saturday’s rematch on a twenty-two game winning streak, while the Wildcats are in “yet-to-hit-our-peak” mode.
Kentucky basketball’s inexperience impeded its ability to complete the upset over the Gators.
In the loss, the young Wildcats led the Gators at home before falling by a final score of 69-59.
Florida was able to capitalize on a poor free throw shooting night by the Wildcats, a common theme in nearly every Wildcat loss.
Kentucky shot 14 for 23 from the free throw line for the game. The Gators shot 15 for 17 from the charity stripe in the second half alone, including an 11 for 12 performance by senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, with an emphasis on senior.
The Gators routinely start four seniors and one sophomore. Excluding Tuesday’s senior night, Wildcats head coach John Calipari has stuck with an all-freshman starting five.
How can the struggling Wildcats enter what will inevitably be a teeming O’Connell Center packed with frenzied Florida fans determined to give their four (!) senior leaders a proper farewell and emerge victorious?
Other than the obvious need for an improvement in free throw shooting (68.7 percent this season,) the Wildcats must focus on other vital facets of the game.
In seven of its eight losses, the Wildcats recorded fewer than 12 assists. Freshman point guard Andrew Harrison is averaging a mere 3.5 assist per game on the season, which leads the team.
Another imperative improvement that must be made to defeat the mighty Gators is from behind the arc.
The Wildcats are shooting just 31.4 percent from the trifecta. The Wildcats will need a performance from alleged sharp-shooting freshman James Young (32.8 three-point percentage) similar to Florida shooting guard Michael Frazier II’s on Tuesday night (eleven three pointers.)
The Wildcats are up against a challenge. The Gators are hungry and looking to chomp their experienced teeth on the young, innocent Wildcats.
This is the time when the “greatest recruiting class in the history of college basketball” must grow up, fair or not. Asking 18- and 19-year-old college students to become one cohesive unit for an entire season is a difficult coaching situation.
Asking them to not only defeat the number team in the nation on its senior day, but ride that momentum, win the conference tournament and play deep into the NCAA Tournament to appease the most passionate fan base in college basketball is downright laughable.
The Wildcats primarily feature a rotation that includes five freshmen and two sophomores. The likelihood that the Wildcats can upset the top-rated, SEC regular season-clinching Gators is slim.
But this is March. This is when an eight loss 2010-2011 Wildcat team caught fire and rode momentum all the way to the Final Four. That team included three freshmen in the rotation.
A lit fire under a basketball team means success in March. Saturday’s game may provide the kindling necessary for a Wildcat wildfire.