Can Anyone Beat Kentucky?

RuppArena

A lot can change in a week. A week ago the Kentucky men’s basketball team was 13-0, having just dispatched rival Louisville 58-50. That game tied the smallest margin of victory for the Wildcats in a non-conference schedule that included No. 5 Kansas, No. 6 Texas and No. 21 North Carolina. Kentucky had looked unbeatable.

One week later the Wildcats remain undefeated, but it seems safe to say 15-0 preseason No.1 has never seemed so shaky. Kentucky rolled through a tough non-conference schedule with nary a close game, only to play three overtimes in two games against relatively weak conference opponents. Both Ole Miss and Texas A&M came tantalizingly close to defeating Kentucky only to fall in the end. As shaky as the Wildcats have looked in their last two games, they still have a better chance to go 40-0 than any team in recent memory. The question, then, is which teams have the best chance of stopping the Wildcats?

The first, is Kentucky themselves. Texas A&M and Ole Miss played great games. They looked motivated and had smart game plans which they executed extremely well. Even so, Kentucky’s best basketball is better than everybody else’s best—except maybe Duke’s—and it is clear the Wildcats did not play their best basketball last week. It was difficult to watch either of those games without feeling the Wildcats could have pulled away at any time if they could just execute on offense and box out on defense.

Another answer is every team is capable of beating Kentucky any given week. The SEC may be at its lowest point in years, but it is still loaded with talent. If this past week taught us anything it taught us that Kentucky is going to get every team’s best shot, and any team is capable of defeating Kentucky under the right circumstances.

If you have a chance to see Kentucky this season but you pass it up because you think “they are going to destroy South Carolina anyway” you are likely making a mistake. For teams like South Carolina, that are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, a marquee win over Kentucky could be their ticket to the big dance.

The crazy part of Kentucky’s 15-0 run is they have actually had everything go their way lately. They faced the team that matches up best against them on paper—Texas—without Texas’s starting point guard. In their overtime win against Ole Miss, the Rebels were without their best shooter, Stefan Moody, for the entire overtime. Texas A&M forced two overtimes despite being without their leading scorer, Jalen Jones, for the entire game. In another bit of good fortune, the Wildcats will not have to face Ole Miss or Texas A&M again until possibly the SEC tournament.

So, which teams have the best chance of doing those three things and actually defeating Kentucky?

• LSU
The Tigers are eighth nationally in defensive rebounds per game, but they are also exceptional passers, ranked 16th in assists per game. If any team can get into the heart of the Kentucky defense and find the open shooter it is LSU.

• Florida
The Gators do not actually do any of the things I highlighted above particularly well, but they have a chance due to Billy Donovan. He has to be on the short list of best coaches in college basketball, and with two shots against Kentucky I like his chances of making at least one game close.

Arkansas
The Razorbacks are the lone ranked opponent remaining on Kentucky’s schedule. Ranked opponents have not fared well against Kentucky so far, but Arkansas has a chance to change that.

• Missouri
This may be your best chance to see Kentucky upset for the price, as the median ticket price for this game is $62 compared to $116 against Arkansas and $184 against Florida. The Tigers get Kentucky at their most vulnerable, and they are already battle-tested. Missouri lost tight neutral-site games against Illinois and Oklahoma State and defeated LSU in overtime. They will not be intimidated by Kentucky.

The great thing about trying to catch one of these games live is that it might work out even better for you in the long run if Kentucky goes 40-0. How cool would it be to be able to tell your grandkids “I saw Kentucky the year they went undefeated”? Whether you see Kentucky go down or not, the chance to witness history is well worth the price of admission.

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