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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, February 11, 2015

February 11, 2015 The Morning Dish No Comments

An undefeated regular season for Kentucky is becoming closer and closer to reality.

The Wildcats passed what was quite possibly their toughest test for the rest of the regular season, defeating LSU on Tuesday 71-69. Karl-Anthony Towns scored with 1:28 left to put Kentucky ahead, and the Wildcats survived a missed three-pointer by Keith Hornsby at the buzzer to stay perfect.

UK still has seven regular season games left, including three on the road (at Tennessee, Mississippi State and Georgia). The toughest test remaining certainly appears to be Arkansas, but that one will be at Rupp Arena. It’s not inconceivable at all anymore to visualize an undefeated run in the regular season.

Notice the mention of “regular season.” There’s a big difference between going undefeated in the regular season and turning the feat through the postseason. That’s some harsh nit-picking, but it’s the reality of this Kentucky team, as well as that of the SEC in general.

The greatness of this Kentucky team is being analyzed on a daily basis. Some have called it the greatest defensive team of all-time. (Yeah…about that. LSU shot 47.5% Tuesday night. In this era where defenses are allowed considerably greater freedoms than even 15-20 years ago, that’s really the equal of about 55% in the past.) When it comes to recruiting rankings, it’s the most loaded roster possibly in the history of the sport.

It’s hard to tell exactly how impressive an undefeated regular season would be because of Kentucky’s conference. The Wildcats picked up some top-flight wins in the non-conference season, including some thoroughly dominating performances that earned this team the hype it has received, but the truth is the SEC does not have any other top-flight teams this season. A number of very good, borderline NCAA tourney-worthy teams, yes, but UK hasn’t faced a Wisconsin-, Duke- or Arizona-level team in some time.

All of this isn’t to say an undefeated season wouldn’t be a considerable feat. It’s always a tremendous accomplishment. For this Kentucky team, though, the more it wins, the greater the expectations become. A national title is always the objective at Kentucky anyway and especially with this year’s team, but an undefeated regular season will only increase the perception that nothing less will do. As much of a crapshoot as the NCAA Tournament is, that’s not necessarily fair, but it’s the reality.

Side Dishes:

  • Notre Dame went to Clemson and pulled out a 60-58 win that shows no hangover from the pummeling by Duke for the Irish. The Tigers gave a game effort but are looking again like an NIT club.
  • Wisconsin won at Nebraska 65-55, avenging a loss in Lincoln last year.
  • Kansas also won on the road at Texas Tech 73-51, pulling away late after hitting 11 of 20 from three-point range.
  • Temple continues to greatly strengthen its NCAA Tournament case after defeating Cincinnati 75-59 last night. Will Cummings scored 21 for the Owls, who have won six straight.
  • Despite both coming in with matching 15-8 records, Georgetown and Seton Hall were basically two ships passing in the night on Tuesday. The Hoyas blew out the Pirates 86-67, SHU’s sixth loss in eight games.
  • Also in the Big East, Xavier hammered Marquette 64-44, a convincing win on the road that only serves all the more to display the difference right now between the Musketeers and Seton Hall. The Pirates just lost to Marquette at home on Saturday.
  • Arkansas and Auburn promised to be a good game, and it was. The Razorbacks won 101-87 in a game that featured nine players in double figures. One of them was not the Tigers’ energetic guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who unfortunately reinjured a shoulder in the game’s early minutes and was out the rest of the way.
  • Missouri also was victimized by injury Tuesday, a gruesome one as Wes Clark dislocated his elbow in the Tigers’ 65-60 loss to South Carolina.
  • Dayton was able to grind out a 51-44 win at Saint Louis despite shooting just 32.6%. The Flyers were able to win in large part because they held SLU to 32.7% marksmanship.
  • East Carolina defeated Memphis 64-53. The Pirates have been a tough out the last few weeks, also defeating Cincinnati recently.
  • Another night in the Mid-American Conference provided more terrific competition. Most notable: Toledo is getting on a roll. The Rockets won at Buffalo 92-88 for their sixth straight win, behind 25 points from Julius Brown and 86 total from their starting five. Also: Akron and Bowling Green are tied for the East Division lead after the Zips defeated Kent State 61-52 and the BG’s smothered Western Michigan 65-49.
  • Albany continues to dominate the America East, cruising past Binghamton 62-46 for its 12th straight victory. New Hampshire keeps trying to hang with the Great Danes, and the Wildcats won at Hartford 76-70 in overtime for their 14th win.
  • Former UNLV, Long Beach State and Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian entered the hospital Monday night after being unresponsive during the day while being treated for low blood pressure and an infection, and the latest report Tuesday night is that he is in critical condition. Tarkanian has had several health scares in recent years due to heart problems.
  • Phil Kasiecki reports on Delaware, an NCAA Tournament team last year that got off to a rough start but is showing promise.

Tonight’s Menu:

Villanova at Providence (8 p.m. EST, FS1) Wildcats can make the Big East a two-team race with Butler if they’re able to win at PC.
Georgia at Texas A&M
Two of the real under-the-radar surprise contenders for at-large bids this year. Important win available here for one team, while a loss won’t wipe out the other one.
Indiana at Maryland (9 p.m. EST, BTN)
IU won in blowout fashion in the first meeting. That shouldn’t happen again, but a Hoosier win of any kind would signal cause for growing concern for the Terrapins.
Wyoming at San Diego State (11 p.m. EST, CBSSN)
The two teams tied for first in the Mountain West, with Boise State half a game behind. Cowboys have a glittery record (19-5) but a non-conference schedule that looks worse now than in December. SDSU is coming off a convincing loss at Boise.
Oregon State at UCLA The Bruins countered a quality win at Stanford with a last-second loss at Cal. The Beavers continue to be a terrific surprise, and a road win here would be massive.
Virginia at N.C. State
Huge game for the Wolfpack, the kind that could cover a lot of sins on an at-large resume.
Rhode Island at St. Joseph’s, Massachusetts at St. Bonaventure Tricky game for URI. Expect it to be close because so many of the Rams’ and Hawks’ games have been. The latter matchup features surging UMass and the lovable Bonnies, national darlings after two buzzer-beater wins last week.
Illinois State at Northern Iowa
The Redbirds nearly won the first meeting and should be ready to go after slipping up at Southern Illinois this past weekend.
Winthrop at High Point
Two of the seven-SEVEN-teams that came into this week tied for first in the Big South.

Enjoy your Wednesday.

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