When Calipari took over the program in 2009, the conference was basically Florida and everybody else. Certainly year to year, some teams would spark up but they ultimately would flame out quickly. Florida hung with the Cats in excellence for many years but they have somewhat taken a step back. Luckily, the depth of the conference has greatly improved, with Auburn and Tennessee leaping into the Top 15 and several other teams hovering in or near the Top 25. It makes for a far more enjoyable January and February for fans as UK actually plays games that mean something. Until you look at the results:
2011: #13 Florida, W 76-68
2011: #12 Florida, W 70-54 (SEC Tournament)
2012: #8 Florida, W 78-58
2013: at #7 Florida, L 69-52
2013: #11 Florida, W 61-57
2014: #3 Florida, L 69-59
2014: at #1 Florida, L 84-65
2014: #1 Florida, L 61-60 (SEC Tournament)
2017: #13 Florida, W 76-66
2018: #15 Tennessee, L 61-59
2018: at #10 Auburn, L 76-66
2018: #13 Tennessee, W 77-72 (SEC Tournament)
Against Top 15 SEC teams under Calipari, UK is:
- 6-6 overall
- 3-6 since 2013
- 0-3 in true road games
UK has largely feasted on the lower level SEC competition over the past 10 years but they haven’t exactly starred when faced with great SEC teams, especially on the road. Yet to have beaten a Top 15 team on the road in conference in Cal’s tenure. Now let’s be honest, winning a road game against any Top 15 team is not easy. UK has only had 3 opportunities in 10 years and lost those games by 17, 19, and 10. But I feel like a theme is arising each game with this year’s group of “proving they belong”. We all thought this was a Final Four team at the beginning of the year and then they sputtered. After losing the Alabama, I think many thought that dream might nearly be gone.
UK didn’t exactly play lights out against Vandy and Texas A&M either. But the road win at Georgia, and how they won, was definitely a large move in the right direction. Hammering an inferior opponent is what Final Four teams do. It’s what Tennessee has done and it’s what Auburn did to Texas A&M earlier this week. UK being seriously competitive, and having a real shot at winning at the end, will be another big step tomorrow. UK hasn’t been competitive in these road games under Calipari but that was the 2013 (NIT), 2014 (8 seed), and 2018 teams. Those were not Cal’s best groups, yes even with the ’14 group making the surprise run to the Final Four. This team is still on the brink of either falling into that class of “not one of Cal’s best” or moving into a real contender.
I don’t think a win is a must tomorrow. But how the games plays out is very, very important. It would be nice to see the Cats break the road losing streak and the overall lackluster results against Top 15 SEC teams. If the Cats prove they belong tomorrow, another big step will be taken to be ready for March.