Kentucky Basketball: Predicting Wildcats’ next loss
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Kentucky basketball is 7-1 and ranked eighth in the country, having figured out a few things but still with a lot to learn over the next three months before the NCAA Tournament.
Austin Walker wonders: How many games does Kentucky win out of Virginia Tech, UCLA and Louisville?
Those games are on Dec. 16, 23 and 29 — the Hokies and Cardinals at home, the Bruins in New Orleans at the CBS Sports Classic two days before Christmas — after the Wildcats face Monmouth (for some reason) in New York this weekend.
Not too long ago, I would’ve probably said UK wins just one or two of those games. Now I’m going to say the Cats take all three. In Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistical rankings, U of L is No. 25, Virginia Tech No. 35 and UCLA No. 44 — and not one of those teams has looked particularly impressive.
The Hokies’ best win is against No. 64 Ole Miss (and they lost to No. 200 Saint Louis). The Bruins’ best win is against No. 47 Wisconsin (and they lost by double digits to Creighton). The Cardinals don’t have a top-100 win (and they’ve lost back-to-back to Purdue and Seton Hall).
Honestly, Virginia Tech might have the best shot at taking out Kentucky, because the Hokies rank No. 1 nationally in effective field-goal percentage (63.2) and No. 6 in 3-point percentage (44.9). And the Cats seem to have a knack for leaving other teams open for 3s (see Harvard’s 12 made 3-pointers last time out).
Still, as UK begins putting some things together, and taking into account the team’s ridiculous length, athleticism and overall talent, it’s harder and harder for me to see any of those three opponents beating Kentucky in Rupp Arena/on a neutral court.
Which leads me to a related question from my guy Shaun Dunn: When does UK basketball lose its next game?
I’m calling it Jan. 6 in Knoxville. Tennessee is thriving in Year 3 under Rick Barnes (a helluva coach who is underappreciated for his work at Texas). The Vols are 6-1 with wins over No. 21 Purdue and (just this weekend) at Georgia Tech. They played No. 4 Villanova tough, too, and just broke into the AP rankings at No. 24.
Also worth noting: Much worse UT teams have beaten good Kentucky teams in Knoxville. The Vols went 16-16 last season but still beat an Elite Eight UK team at home. They went 15-19 the season before and beat a 27-win UK team at home.
So yeah, I’m not exactly going out on a limb here predicting that the first time a team starting five freshmen goes on the road to play a good opponent, it’ll lose.