Although I’m sure it pains them greatly, even ESPN can’t ignore how well Kentucky’s playing right now (in my mind, they have folders of Duke and North Carolina graphics on deck in hopes the Cats falter down the stretch). In fact, one analyst, Myron Medcalf, seems to have quite a crush on Kentucky, penning a column after their win over Vandy a few weeks ago about how they are “the clear National Title favorite.” During a “watercooler convo” (oh brother) previewing this weekend’s games, Metcalf and Eamonn Brennan discussed whether or not the Commodores could pull off an upset tomorrow, and what Kentucky needs to do to prepare for the postseason:
MM: …I actually think Vandy-Kentucky will be a great game. It was a great matchup when they met Jan. 11. Vandy held its own and even secured a late lead. And the Wildcats haven’t looked invincible over their past three games. Do you smell an upset?
EB: I do not. Sure, Vandy hung around with Kentucky in Nashville. Sure, the Commodores made a late push. And yeah, Kentucky was tested. But it passed with flying colors. That last four minutes, UK flipped some sort of crazy-defense switch. It was like the Wildcats all looked at each other and said, “This team isn’t scoring again.” And Vanderbilt didn’t. Other than an unlikely barrage of 3s, I don’t know how Kevin Stallings’ team solves the UK riddle. It’s very difficult to imagine.
MM: True. The Wildcats have that switch. It’s like they just wait to use it when necessary. Vulnerable is probably the wrong word. They’ve just looked bored during their past three games. It’s like they’re waiting for a big challenge. Vandy, like Ole Miss and MSU, put up a fight for a stretch. And then, boom! The Wildcats took off. Good or bad, in terms of national title hopes, that Kentucky is cruising like this? Would it be better served by a tough game right now to get ready for March?
EB: I’m sure the Wildcats’ coach would prefer that each of the rest of their games be like Mississippi State — a team that came out guns blazing with an upset in mind, forcing Kentucky to react and overcome in the second half. At this point in the season, UK doesn’t need confidence boosts or dominant, wow-we’re-awesome, 40-point victories. There’s a lot more value to hard-fought games, because in the tournament, you have to win six increasingly difficult ones. Better to get this young team used to that now.
In fact, if I’m John Calipari, I’m hoping Anthony Davis gets in foul trouble Saturday. Not because I want to lose, of course. But because I want my team to learn how to play without him, in case such a scenario arises in the tournament. It very well could.
MM: I agree. That’s the scenario that terrifies Kentucky fans. Sweet 16 game versus Wichita State, and AD picks up two fouls in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Brennan makes a good point–the few times the Cats have struggled this season have been when Davis is on the bench. He’s the anchor of the team both offensively and defensively. And while I certainly don’t advocate Davis willingly getting himself into foul trouble, it would be nice to hone our game plan for when he is. I also agree that this team would be best served with a “close” win (this team’s “close” is ten points) that challenges them and teaches them something than a twenty-five point blowout. So Vandy: drop the Jekyll and Hyde act and bring it tomorrow.
If you could pick between the two, which would you prefer, close win or blowout?