South Carolina at Kentucky: A Quick Recap

Now that I've recovered from my post-victory, sauvignon blanc-fueld euphoria, a few more thoughts on the game and where we go from here. If you want to know why we won this game despite shooting for a significantly lower percentage from the field and making around 15 less free throws than Kentucky--and trust me, that's exactly what Cats fans are asking themselves today--three sets of statistics are worth noting. Exhibit A: we shot 76 times from the field to Kentucky's 48. That's a difference of 28 field goal attempts. How did this situation occur, you ask? Exhibit B: we had 18 offensive rebounds to Kentucky's eight and Kentucky gave up a whopping 21 turnovers to our 10. You're not going to lose many games when you have that kind of production on the offensive boards and win the turnover battle by such a large margin. Despite concerns following the LSU game that we wouldn't be able to force many turnovers against top-flight competition, Darrin Horn's system is working wonders right now. It's worth noting that Kentucky has been a turnover prone team at times this year, so you have to credit Horn for figuring out how to exploit the Cats' weakness and to the players for executing. While I think Billy Gillispie is a good coach, Horn outcoached him yesterday; it was clear to me that Kentucky had a deeper, more talented lineup than us, but we did some of the little things better than the Cats and that's why we won. That's coaching, people.

In terms of the big picture, I'd now say that we're in good position to make the NCAAs if we can maintain our level of play. We currently have five conference wins, and I think we need either ten regular-season wins or nine with at least two in the SEC tourney to get into the Big Dance. We have remaining games at Florida, home and away against UGA, at Bama, at MSU, vs. Arkansas, vs. UK, at Vandy, and vs. UT. If things go according to plans, we should win the two against UGA, the one at Bama, the one against Arkansas, and the one at Vandy. That would bring us to the ten wins we need. I also expect us to take a couple of the other games, the home games against the Cats and Vols and the game at MSU being the most likely candidates. While I'd love to see us beat the Gators in Gainesville this week, I'm not sure I can see it happening, although I didn't see us winning in Lexington, either. While we're probably due for a let-down soon, if the ball keeps bouncing our way we could possibly be sitting on a twelve- of or thirteen-victory conference season, which would not only get us into the Dance but also probably get us a somewhat favorable seed, making it more likely that we might play a team we're capable of beating.

There's been a bit of discussion about whether or not we'll show up in the Top 25 tomorrow. I don't see it happening. If we beat the Gators this week and don't blow it against UGA, we'll get in. If we lose to the Gators and start another winning streak, we might show up in a couple of weeks. Right now, though, while we are starting to get some national attention--those that have visited ESPN.com's college hoops page today have seen Coach Horn's face plastered on the screen, and I understand that Dickie V, Bobby Knight, and the rest of that crew had nice things to say about us last night--we're still behind some other teams in terms of national recognition, and the polls are essentially a beauty pageant. They're suspicious of and resistant to surprise teams like ourselves. A lot of voters are wondering if we're for real or if we're just some team that's having some luck winning close games, and when you take off the garnet glasses, you can see why. It's not every day that you get 28 more FG attempts than your opponent, and the last-second shots can't always fall. And, in the grand scheme of things, it's not really all that important to be ranked this year; heading into the season, I thought an NIT berth was a good goal for this team, and an NCAAs berth now looking more like a probability than a possiblity, it's pretty clear that whatever else happens this season is going to be icing on the cake. I'd like to see us break the Top 25 if only for the sake of the recognition and recruiting advantages that entails, but, truth be told, I'll be happy with this team as long as they keep playing hard and win enough games to make the NCAAs.

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