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Kentucky’s win over Arkansas showed everything this team is capable of being

If you’ve been reading my articles here at KSR over the last few weeks, you know that I was always a bit more optimistic about this year’s Kentucky Wildcats than most. As I’ve written about since the Wildcats started a four-game skid a few weeks back, UK’s struggles had always been more to do with the SEC being really good, than Kentucky being really bad. Remember, all four of Kentucky’s losses during that losing skid came to projected NCAA Tournament teams.

Still, as good as I thought Kentucky could be, I have to admit one thing: I never expected to see a performance like the one we got Tuesday night at Arkansas. On the road, against another NCAA Tournament caliber team (there are a lot of them in the SEC this year, aren’t there?) the Wildcats played at a level that frankly, I didn’t know they had. And it got me wondering: How much higher is Kentucky’s ceiling? And how much better can they get? The answer I believe, is a lot.

For starters, Tuesday night showed us everything Kentucky is capable of being. They were the bigger, stronger, more aggressive club against Arkansas, and it showed not only in the final score, but the box score too. The Wildcats have been a good defensive team all season but took it to the next level on the road against the Razorbacks, holding a team which is averaging 82 points per game to just 72, while also limiting them to 39 percent shooting from the field. Arkansas shot an average of over 48 percent coming into the game.

More importantly though, the game showed just how far some of the players on this roster have come –players that Kentucky will need if they want to make noise this March. Quade Green has carved out an important role for himself off the bench as this team’s second play-maker and ball-handler and is averaging 12 points and four assists in his last two games. Jarred Vanderbilt has literally gone from a player who can’t make a layup two games ago to a dynamic offensive and defensive force for the Wildcats. He had 11 and 9 against Arkansas, and I’ve got imagine he is amongst the top rebounders-per-minute-played in college basketball.  P.J. Washington is coming off his third straight solid game with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Add those three in with Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and that is a core that is about as talented in anyone in college basketball.

But really, that last part is why I’m so optimistic about this team: They are just now starting to reach their potential. That’s because remember, not only are they the youngest team in college basketball (wait, has anyone mentioned that this season?) but also because few teams anywhere in the country have dealt with more roster instability than John Calipari. Jarred Vanderbilt missed two months with an injury then came back. Quade Green missed several games with back problems, and Sacha Killeya-Jones has missed time for various reasons as well. Tai Wynyard was part of the team and now he isn’t (remember kids, next time you got out on the town, leave your armed bodyguard at home). So you take the youngest team in college basketball and add in just overall inconsistency, and well, I don’t know how to tell you this but… of course this team was going to struggle!

That’s why I always thought it was premature to give up on this team: It’s late February and John Calipari is just now figuring out who his players are and what they’re capable of doing. And as we’ve gotten later in the season, the results have begun to speak for themselves. The Wildcats have won two in a row and are 19-9 overall, and while that win-loss record doesn’t sound crazy impressive, keep in mind that Kentucky has the No. 2 strength of schedule in all of college basketball. No. 2! Why has no one talked about this? Does anyone realize just how tough this schedule has been?

Only it’s been brutal, which has led to some more-impressive-than-anyone-realizes results for these Wildcats. They have a staggering 11 wins against RPI Top 75 teams, and according to my math, just under half their victories (eight) have come against projected NCAA Tournament teams. That includes three in the SEC (Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M), three against Power 5 teams in the non-conference (Virginia Tech, Louisville and West Virginia) and two more projected to win their league (Vermont and East Tennessee State). Did I mention Mississippi State and Georgia (two more Kentucky wins) are also teams on the bubble and could play their way in?

And it’s because of the strength of that schedule, which is why I think this team can do real damage in March. The truth is, the Wildcats have already seen any kind of team they might get matched up with in the Big Dance. Think about it. If Kentucky gets pitted against a team with dominant guards, that’s no different than playing Auburn on the road. How about a team with size? Who has more size than Texas A&M? Want defensive toughness? It doesn’t get tougher than Missouri. How about a team with balance from all five spots? That perfectly describes Tennessee.

Point being, that as big as Tuesday night’s win was, it also set the tone for what could come next month.

We’re already in the last week in February. And incredibly, Kentucky is just now starting to find itself.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

9 Comments for Kentucky’s win over Arkansas showed everything this team is capable of being

  1. wyatts1
    9:10 pm February 21, 2018 Permalink

    Besides what a lot of the haters or bandwagon fans say, this teams limits are through the roof. They’ve underachieved this far not because of talent but due to their immaturity on the court. However theyve grown leaps and bounds during these last few games and it seems like they are begining to trust the process with diallo as the only possible exception. Most of us know their strengths but what is like to start seeing from them is consistency, consistency from the free throw line, and on their passing aka assist. I still have issues with Richards and feel like hes gotta step up and stay outta foul trouble, and diallo needs to stop running his mouth and figure out where he fits in cause clearly he isnt the dominant player he (and others) thought he was gonna be. With that said i still (like always) like my team, even though the growing pains are tough to take sometime I’m still bleeding blue and honestly believe we can beat any team in the nation when we start clicking on the court.

    • CatBlue in LR
      11:32 pm February 21, 2018 Permalink

      I think what you’re saying is their ceiling is the roof.

    • wyatts1
      11:35 am February 22, 2018 Permalink

      ?? yeah that’s it lol

  2. callitlikeiseeit
    10:02 pm February 21, 2018 Permalink

    This team could make some noise for sure!!! As long as that bum Diallo stays off the court!

    • callitlikeiseeit
      10:27 pm February 21, 2018 Permalink

      KSR needs to look into who this is, I did not make this post.

    • BigBlueNationDude
      2:45 am February 22, 2018 Permalink


    • 4everUKblue
      4:52 am February 22, 2018 Permalink

      Funny, nothing positive ever comes from you or BBNDude/Slater.

  3. AmazzzingLarry
    1:06 am February 22, 2018 Permalink

    Thank goodness Cal is finally playing the best lineup. This looks like a real team now wit Green, SGA, Knox, Vanderbilt, Washington. Still not sure the Cats are a final four team, but they can still finish strong, win the SEC tourney, bag a 4 or 5 seed, and have an exciting NCAA run.

  4. Luether
    11:21 pm February 22, 2018 Permalink

    OR Arkansas just had a bad game against Ky…