This Kentucky team can still make what it wants of this season. In fact, if they can turn it around after losing Nerlens Noel, Cal says they could be “the story of the year” in college basketball. That all starts tonight against Vanderbilt. Because there are only so many ways we can say “this is a must-win game,” let’s have a little fun “choosing the Cats’ adventure,” starting with tonight’s outcome:
A. Beat Vandy by double digits
A big win over Kevin Stallings and crew would mean the Cats are back in the driver’s seat for the rest of the season. After dropping a clunker against Tennessee, Kentucky needs a convincing win, and Vandy is not that good. Yet, the Cats still barely beat them in Nashville, thanks to a shot clock buzzer beater from Nerlens Noel. Even with Nerlens, Kentucky was outrebounded by Vandy 42-37, which means Willie Cauley-Stein will have to establish himself in the post and box out better than he did against Tennessee. If he, Poythress and Wiltjer can control the game in the paint, then Kentucky can create easy shots inside if the guard play continues to falter. Kentucky’s success will hinge on Wiltjer and/or Mays getting hot from outside, which was pretty much the Cats’ only source of scoring in Knoxville. If Kentucky toughens up, owns the boards, and connects from behind the arc, Vandy will be the whipping boy they so desperately need. A double-digit win over the Dores would give the Cats some much-needed confidence while building momentum going into Saturday’s showdown against Missouri.
B. Beat Vandy by single digits
Say the Cats haven’t totally recovered from the Tennessee thrashing but manage to grind out a close win over Vandy? It’s the most likely scenario, and would keep the team and its fans in the current state of limbo. I don’t expect that Kentucky’s guard play will be resolved by the end of the season, but if Cal can patch together some kind of solution, it will save the ship from completely going under. Call me a pessimist, but I also don’t see the light bulb magically clicking on for Kentucky’s trio of apathy, Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin, and Alex Poythress. Yet, if even one of them steps up and delivers the type of performance the team needs, it will go a long way into extending this team’s postseason hopes. Once again, it will likely be Julius Mays and Jarrod Polson who bring the passion to the court, inspiring just enough of their teammates to eek out a close victory over the ‘Dores. Regardless, that won’t do much for Kentucky’s resume or their confidence, and the Cats will still need to win all of their remaining games except for Florida and put together an impressive showing in Nashville to make it to the Tournament.
C. Lose to Vandy
Season over. Barring an SEC Tournament Championship or an upset of Florida, Kentucky will not make the NCAA Tournament and March will officially be depressing. While your coworkers exchange brackets and talk excitedly about the tournament games around the water cooler, you’ll be resigned to NIT updates and staring wistfully at last year’s winning bracket, which is still pinned to your office wall (I know mine is). The bright side? If Kentucky makes it to the NIT finals, I hear Jack Demsey’s is lovely this time of year.
Which of the above do you see happening tonight?