Kentucky heads into another, on paper, quite winnable game tonight against Georgia. There is nothing that would suggest if the Cats don’t bring their “A” game they won’t win comfortably. Georgia is not any threat to make the NCAA Tournament as Tom Crean tries to rebuild a program that used to be a Top 4 team in the conference. But if recent history tells us anything, it is that Kentucky fans can no longer assume that ANY road game in the conference is a gimme. Just a glance:
2016: at LSU 85-67
2016: at Auburn 75-70
2016: at Tennessee 84-77
2016: at Texas A&M 79-77
2016: at Vanderbilt 74-62
2017: at Tennessee 82-80
2017: at Florida 88-66
2018: at Tennessee 76-65
2018: at South Carolina 76-68
2018: at Missouri 69-60
2018: at Texas A&M 85-74
2018: at Auburn 76-66
2018: at Florida 80-67
2019: at Alabama 79-77
Since the 2016 season, UK is just 14-14 in road games in the conference. And there is more to that record than meets the eye:
-Average margin of defeat in those 14 losses is 9.5 points. The Cats are not just getting beat at the buzzer consistently like they were in the 2011 season. They are getting beat comfortably.
-In 10 of the 14 losses, UK came into the game ranked and the opponent was unranked. They are losing games to teams they shouldn’t.
-UK has given up 75 or more points in 12 of the 14 games. They are often losing these games on the defensive end of the floor.
So while I think many people are overlooking the game tonight as an automatic win on the schedule, I think it will be a very telling game. After the Alabama loss, a loss which looks worse and worse as the weeks go on, UK really needs to show up focused and hammer an inferior team on their home court. No more slow starts. No more offensive droughts. No more defensive breakdowns. Take care of business like a supposed Final Four contender would.
I think we have to start seeing some improvement on many fronts to think this team has any shot at a deep run in March. And while it might not seem like it, I think the result of tonight’s game, and margin of victory, will be an important indicator of that improvement.