BOZICH | Is Kentucky still the team to beat in the SEC? It's com - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Is Kentucky still the team to beat in the SEC? It's complicated

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Kentucky needs to beat Alabama Saturday to avoid a 1-2 start in the SEC. Kentucky needs to beat Alabama Saturday to avoid a 1-2 start in the SEC.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Here are 11 words I never expected to type this early in the college basketball season:

Kentucky is not the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference.

I didn’t say the Wildcats were no longer everybody’s Super Bowl. Even Paul Finebaum and Nick Saban wouldn’t question John Calipari on his signature phrase, the one he’ll dust off a time or two today in Tuscaloosa.

Reports from Alabama are that Kentucky’s visit to Coleman Coliseum Saturday at 6 p.m. (EST) is likely to be sold out, even though everybody from Opelika to Huntsville is obsessing about what the Crimson Tide are going to do with DeShaun Watson not how they’ll defend Tyler Ulis.

Bama coach Avery Johnson even made a plea to students to back his team the way they back Saban’s.

“Get loud and proud and rowdy here in Coleman Coliseum to give us the type of homecourt advantage that Ole Miss had when we played Ole Miss (and lost Thursday),” Johnson said.

“We’re expecting to see a tremendous amount of support. Hopefully everybody will come out and just scream, ‘Roll Tide,’ all game and buckle up.”

Let the record show that two major college basketball computer rankings no longer feature Kentucky as the best team in the SEC.

Ken Pomeroy’s numbers project a 12-6 SEC finish for the Wildcats.

That’s one game behind Texas A&M and South Carolina.

Jeff Sagarin has a different formula – and different results.

Sagarin says that Vanderbilt, the only 0-2 team in the SEC, is the league’s most accomplished team. Feel free to quibble. Can’t blame you. The Commodores left their best basketball and their reputation in Maui.

Sagarin says Billy Kennedy’s A&M Aggies are the next most formidable group. At 12-2, A&M has a resume stained by a strange loss to Syracuse.

Third? This story is going to be printed and dropped in the UK locker room this afternoon. Sagarin’s formula has Florida, a team that has lost three of its last four games, ranked third in the SEC.

Florida? Somebody advise Sagarin’s computer that Billy Donovan has moved to Oklahoma City.

Then comes Kentucky, ranked fourth in the SEC and 28th in America, according to Sagarin’s formula.

You can argue about the validity of computer formulas, but you cannot argue about the validity of this statement:

The Wildcats need to beat Alabama today to remain in the top pack of the SEC race -- and to remain in the Top 25 of the human polls when the latest editions are released Monday.

Kentucky has already lost to six-loss UCLA, five-loss Ohio State and five-loss Louisiana State, which isn’t like losing to Kansas, Michigan State and North Carolina.

Losing to LSU and Alabama in the same week would cue the howling about the direction of this season.

If you suspect that 14-0 South Carolina as well as 12-2 A&M are legitimate threats for the SEC title, you should also make note of this intriguing scheduling tidbit:

Kentucky plays South Carolina once – in Columbia on Feb. 13. A week later UK visits College Station to play A&M. There is no return game in Lexington.

Better win the road games that look like road wins -- like this one in Tuscaloosa. (In Vegas, the line for today’s game favors UK by six. Pomeroy’s formula likes the Wildcats by three. Sagarin says UK by about 7.)

Alabama is another team with serious gaps in its credentials – a 32-point loss to Dayton as well as a 19-point stumble against Xavier. Oregon and Ole Miss have also taken down Avery Johnson’s team.

Bama is 5-0 at home, but has beaten nobody better than Louisiana Lafayette. The Crimson Tide did its best work during a Thanksgiving tournament, taking down Wichita State and Notre Dame.

“We have to rebound the basketball; Ole Miss was fourth in our league in terms of rebounding efficiency,” Avery Johnson said. “Kentucky is number one.

“We can’t give teams second shots. That’s a big point of emphasis for us. We’ve got to make sure we box out and get the rebound.

“That will give us a chance to get in transition and run. Kentucky’s a really good offensive rebounding team. They’re long athletic players.”

In November, that length and athleticism made Kentucky the team to beat in the SEC. In January, the computer rankings aren’t so sure about that.

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