Theoretically, Vanderbilt would seem to be in a perfect position to knock off Kentucky in the SEC Tournament finals.
The Commodores gave the Wildcats two good games during the regular season. In Memorial Gymnasium, Vandy erased a 13 point halftime deficit to tie the score in the second half before UK pulled away and won by six. At Rupp, the ‘Dores actually had the lead at the break and never let Kentucky pull away from good, eventually losing by just nine.
The reason why is that Vandy matches up fairly well with Kentucky. They are a veteran group with a big, strong center in Festus Ezeli to put a body on Anthony Davis, an athlete the caliber of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in Jeff Taylor and arguably the nation’s best shooter in John Jenkins. The fact that Vandy knows they can play with Kentucky surely will help as well.
Kentucky hasn’t looked dominant in the SEC Tournament, either. After struggling in a win over LSU in the quarterfinal round, Kentucky got pushed to the brink by a Florida team that can get hot and hang with anyone.
The key to beating Kentucky this season is catching them on a night when they aren’t playing their best basketball, and they haven’t been in New Orleans. The good news, however, is that it looks like Terrence Jones had decided that he wants to be the Terrence Jones that just oozes with potential. In both the LSU and Florida games, he was the guy that sparked the run that changed the game. When he comes to play, he makes the Wildcats a completely different team.
Win or lose, Kentucky is going to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. That is about as much of a fact as we have heading into Selection Sunday. The more intriguing question, however, is whether the Wildcats “need to lose”.
The thinking goes like this: when you are dealing with a group of talented youngsters that are sneaking by against teams they should beat the group can get complacent. Bad habits develop, intensity wanes and that is precisely how favorites lose in the NCAA Tournament. A loss would provide a wake-up call, but I don’t buy it.
The last thing a team wants to do is head into the tournament believing they are beatable, and that is precisely what a loss would do. Personally, I would be more worried about the fact that this group of youngsters might get blinded by the bright lights of their first (and only?) NCAA Tournament.
But the bottom line is that if Kentucky is playing their best basketball, they are not going to lose.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.