#17 Kentucky Wildcats Get SEC Play Started Right with Win Over Missouri

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We’re five days into the new year, so it’s a time for fresh starts. Perfectly embodying this motif is the tip off of the Southeastern Conference season which saw the #17 Kentucky Wildcats defeat the Missouri Tigers 71-59.  As expected, Kentucky entered SEC play as the heavy favorite to win the league, but the other teams won’t be intimated by the blue blood program from the blue grass state.

“There are so many veteran teams,” said Kentucky Assistant Coach Tony Barbee, “veteran coaches in this league that when teams go on the road, they’re not intimidated by, say, our arena or our atmosphere or our tradition because they come here every year, as opposed to non-conference play.”

The Kentucky Wildcats entered this game with average conference title odds of +200 according to SBD, well ahead of the next closest team, bitter rival Florida (+450). LSU is next at +700 while Auburn, who reached the Final Four last season, and Tennessee, who spent part of last season ranked #1, are both priced at +900.

It makes perfect sense that Kentucky would be the SEC favorites, as they are the reigning blue bloods of the league. Since the SEC’s inception in 1932-33, the Wildcats have dominated, putting up a 997-281 mark (.780) in regular-season conference play. Only one other team has won more than 750 regular-season SEC games (Alabama), and no one has a better all-time winning percentage.

In the preseason, the media picked Mizzou near the bottom of the league, but they were plucky today and stuck around into the second half. This was a tight, defensive battle; just like many thought it would be. Kentucky Coach John Calipari sees the SEC as a league that will get quite a few teams into the NCAA Tournament this season.

“I’ve been in this league a long time and I’ve said early on when we were getting three teams in, this is going to be a six-, seven-, eight-bid league,” Coach Cal said after he spotlighted some of the huge victories that the SEC achieved in non-conference play. 

john calipari

“How about the great wins? How about South Carolina going to Virginia (and winning)? How about our Michigan State win to start the season off? I mean, you overlook.”

Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama seem to have struggled more so than expected in the non-conference season, with Auburn looking the most impressive and consistent thus far. Ranked #8 in the country, the Tigers are currently undefeated. However, they will take their lumps just like everyone else in league play.

It’s the first SEC conference game for UK’s leading scorer, freshman Tyrese Maxey, who described what the coaches and older players told him league play was going to be like:

“They just say the atmosphere is a lot crazier.”

“Going on the road is different. But they just say you gotta stay locked in. We’re just going to be watching a lot more film, staying locked in, staying more focused and just trying to win every game. Every game counts.”

The Kentucky Wildcats entered the day with a KenPom rating of 15, a Sagarin ranking of 22 and a NET of 41.

LSU beat Tennessee 78-64 in the only SEC game that preceded the Cats double digit win in Lexington. Three more league games, Auburn-Mississippi State, Florida-Alabama and Texas A&M-Arkansas, will take place later today.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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