The annual struggles of SEC teams is a reminder that the Kentucky basketball team will get well in conference play.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Good times are coming for the University of Kentucky basketball team. I guarantee it.
That's not a shot at Belmont, the Wildcats' opponent in Rupp Arena Saturday, although it's certainly reasonable to take a shot at the sagging Bruins. Sure, Belmont did something that UK failed to do – win at North Carolina. The Bruins have also achieved something no reasonable team would do: They have lost back-to-back games to South Dakota State and Denver.
After Belmont the Wildcats play host to Louisville. I'm not predicting a Kentucky victory in the rivalry game. I am saying the Wildcats figure to be favored against the Cardinals. I also recognize that John Calipari's teams have lost just twice in Rupp Arena in four-plus seasons.
None of that explains the inevitable good times awaiting the Wildcats. This is the reason to exhale:
Southeastern Conference basketball still has that punch-line smell. Florida is fully formidable. I would not be shocked to see Billy Donovan make his fourth consecutive Elite Eight. I'm impressed by the Gators' grit. They have three- and four-year players.
After that, there's nobody in Nick Saban's Conference to remind you of the Corliss Williamson/Scotty Thurman Arkansas teams or the Rudy Macklin/Howard Carter Louisiana State squads. I don't see anything like Final Four teams that Hugh Durham (Georgia) or Richard Williams (Mississippi State) delivered that made you believe a few other SEC programs were actually serious about basketball.
No wonder 10 SEC programs, including Vanderbilt, are averaging fewer than 10,000 fans per home game.
Don't bother searching for the next Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal or Vern Fleming. These days the SEC will try to sell you Marshall Henderson and his 11 self-indulgent three-point field-goal attempts per game as a great basketball player.
Here are a few numbers that illustrate just how ordinary SEC basketball is again this season:
1. Half of the 14 teams in Les Miles' League have yet to beat an opponent ranked in the Top 100 in Ken Pomeroy's college basketball computer rankings. That's bad.
Here is a reason for a louder, longer groan. Four SEC teams – Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Georgia -- have yet to beat anybody ranked in Pomeroy's Top 200. That's remarkably bad.
Where have you gone Devon Downey?
2. According to Pomeroy's rankings, SEC teams have played 15 games against opponents ranked in his Top 25. They have won three of those games -- Florida beating Kansas and Memphis and Missouri toppling UCLA.
That is the entire list.
3. It's not simply that SEC teams aren't beating the good teams. They're losing to the dreadful teams. Gus Malzahn's League has taken seven defeats against teams ranked outside Pomeroy's Top 100.
You want ugly? I've got ugly.
Take your pick off the buffet line: Tennessee losing to North Carolina State by seven in front of more than 7,000 empty seats in Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday; South Carolina losing to Steve Masiello and Manhattan by 18 in front of more than 10,000 empty seats at Colonial Life Arena Tuesday night or Mississippi State losing to lowly TCU by 10 in front of more than 3,000 empty seats in Starkville Dec. 5.
I'd better not forget that Vanderbilt overpowered Austin Peay (5-6) by two points in Nashville Tuesday. The empty seat report for that one: Nearly 6,000. Apparently SEC fans think it's still football season.
According to Pomeroy, the two worst teams from the six BCS conferences this season are both SEC teams: Mississippi State (205) and Auburn (219). Kentucky plays the Bulldogs twice and the Tigers once. Win, win, win – twice on the road.
Take a close look at Pomeroy's projections for Kentucky. Although his formula has both the Wildcats and Donovan's Gators finishing 14-4 in league play, Kentucky earns a win probability of at least 56 percent in all but one conference game -- the season finale March 8 in Gainesville.
In other words, that 14-4 could easily become a 16-2 or 17-1.
Good times await this Kentucky basketball. SEC basketball remains the all-purpose Get-Well card for the Wildcats.