Today Kentucky is playing a ranked SEC opponent. Yes, you heard me right. There is such a thing as a “ranked SEC opponent.” Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks are the 24th-ranked team in the country. The last two undefeated teams in the SEC will tipoff tonight at 6:00 on ESPN. Before Tom Hart, Kara Lawson Barling and Kaylee Hartung take the mic, here’s what’s happening today in the Big Blue Nation.
D, D, DEFENSE
Wednesday’s 4-point win over Florida may have been ugly, but it was possible because of South Carolina’s exceptional defense. They shot only 29.4 percent, but held Florida without a three-point field goal. The Gamecocks have the No. 1 defense according to KenPom. Their defense is first in the nation in field goal defense (36.3) and second in three-point defense (26.3). On the other side, Kentucky has KenPom’s No. 2 offense.
The Thorn in UK’s Side
The Gamecocks have three losses this season. They lost to Seton Hall and Clemson by a combined five points and were blown out at Memphis. There’s one thing all of those losses have in common: Sindarius Thornwell did not play. The senior swingman is South Carolina’s leading scorer with 18.2 points per game on 45 percent shooting, 40 percent behind the three-point line.
Cal Applauds Martin’s Rebuild
In five seasons, Frank Martin is slowly, but surely, turning South Carolina into a consistent winner. His first winning season was in his third year, and he followed it up with an excellent start last season, only to be snubbed from an NCAA Tournament bid after losing early in the SEC Tournament. Even though Martin lost his front line, Calipari respects Martin’s process.
“What he’s been able to do down there to build it year to year,” Calipari said. “I know how he doesn’t baby kids. He’s coaching them. You watch him. I need our fans to watch him closely because he’s harder on his guys than I am on our guys. You guys think I’m hard. But I respect that. That means he has a great relationship with the guys.”
National Picks for Today’s Game
The Cats opened as 13-point favorites over the Gamecocks. ESPN’s Myron Medical believes Kentucky wins, but will not cover, 74-69. SI’s Seth “Duke” Davis believes the Cats will be upset, 62-61. At CBS Sports, three of their four college basketball analysts believe the Cats will cover 13-points.
The CBS writers also updated their Final Four picks. None of them have the Cats taking home the title, but Matt Norlander is the only one who doesn’t think Kentucky will make the trip to Phoenix for the Final Four.
An Important Official Visitor in Town
When people say, “There’s a huge recruit in town,” they mean it quite literally. 6’11” power forward Mohamed Bamba, the No. 3 player in the 2017 class, is in town for his official visit. He arrived Thursday night and walked into the Joe Craft Center just before John Calipari previewed today’s game with the media.
Bamba is close with Quade Green and Hamidou Diallo. Green said he texts “BBN” to Bamba everyday. I expect Diallo to be close by Bamba at all times this weekend.
Meet Jojo Kemp in Lexington
Before he graduates with a UK degree, running back JoJo Kemp is traveling around the state to meet the BBN. Today at 2:30 he’ll be at All Sports in the Fayette Mall. One of the best the program’s ever produced, I promise you’ll enjoy seeing his smiling face.
Get in this Contest While you Can
Split is Wild
I originally planned on using this time to tell you either good things or bad things about M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie. Unfortunately, I forgot that teenagers go to movies on Friday nights. They’re also big fans of the horror genre. I didn’t see crowds this big when The Force awakened. I’ll have to wait a few more days to enjoy a terrifying schizo-version of James McAvoy.
Keith Bogans is UK’s SEC Legend
In other news that makes me feel old, Keith Bogans will be UK’s Legend at this year’s SEC Tournament. When I grew up, you were either a Tayshaun guy or a Bogans guy. I’d like to think I was both. Tubby’s greatest scorer, my favorite Bogans memory happened in Gainesville. After a hard-fought Kentucky win, a fan threw a teddy-bear sized Floirda Gator at Bogans during his postgame interview with ESPN. He promptly picked it up and punted it into the stands. What a guy.
Today’s College Basketball Schedule
- Noon: Vanderbilt at No. 19 Florida on CBS
- Noon: Syracuse at No. 15 Notre Dame on ESPN
- Noon: Providence at No. 1 Villanova on Fox
- 2:00: Texas at No. 2 Kansas on CBS
- 2:00: No. 12 UofL at No. 10 Florida State on ESPN
- 4:00: No. 14 Arizona at No. 3 UCLA on ESPN
- 8:15: Miami at No. 18 Duke on ESPN