John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats began the season with a penthouse view as the No. 1 team, and the outlook was for at least another Final Four appearance if not a ninth NCAA title. A ticket to the Big Dance should still come, but those championship aspirations have become a long shot as the 2012-13 regular season winds down.
Considering Kentucky's dominance in this series, along with the fact South Carolina owns the worst season record in the SEC, the Wildcats should at least be able to keep from dropping back-to-back contests. Kentucky holds a 47-10 advantage all-time vs. the Gamecocks, and has won the last six clashes.
This is the only scheduled tilt between the two schools this season. Last February in Lexington, the Wildcats breezed by USC with a 77-55 victory as Julius Mays led five UK players in double figures with 15 points. Giving up 17 points at home, the Wildcats had enough to cover for the second straight time in the series, and fifth in their current 6-game streak against the Gamecocks.
Hogs Down 'Cats For Second Time
Kentucky (21-7 straight up, 12-14 against the spread) heads to Columbia off a 71-67 overtime loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks on Thursday, the second time this season the Hogs have topped Calipari's crew. The Wildcats barely avoided a second loss to LSU in less than a month with a 77-76 OT victory over the Tigers last Saturday.
That the Wildcats trailed both the Razorbacks and Tigers in Lexington was cause for concern in the first place, much less losing either game to middle-of-the-pack SEC squads. In each case, the visitors managed to hit long-range jumpers while Kentucky struggled from beyond the arc. The Wildcats also needed to come up with 26 offensive rebounds to even stay close to Arkansas and force overtime, plus left 10 points on the free-throw line while the Razorbacks were a perfect 16-of-16.
In addition to the Wildcats not being able to find the mark from 3-point range in the last two games, Julius Randle hasn't been on his A-game inside. Ranking 13th in the nation with 10.3 boards per game, Randle also leads UK with a 15.7 scoring average while connecting on better than 52% of his field goal attempts; versus the Tigers and Razorbacks, the 6-9 freshman combined for 9-of-23 from the field (39%).
'Cocks Share SEC Cellar With Bulldogs
As strange as it sounds, the best chance South Carolina (10-18 SU, 13-11-1 ATS) has for one more win this season might come at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta less than two weeks from now. Frank Martin's troops are in the throes of their fourth losing streak of three games or more, and have the No. 1 Florida Gators coming to Columbia on Tuesday followed by a trip to Starkville next Saturday to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
It's not like the Bulldogs are a powerhouse with an identical 3-12 conference record as the Gamecocks, but South Carolina is 0-8 on the SEC highway on deck with its only two away victories this season coming in neutral-site matchups during the Diamondhead Classic in Hawaii in late-December.
Then again, it's not like the Wildcats have been world-beaters away from home this season. I do believe, however, that UK will bounce back from the efforts the past two games with a rather comfortable win this evening. The 'Cats get my free NCAA basketball pick.
My pick: Kentucky -9
Season: 45-33-4 (+8.7)