Kentucky will face its first ranked team since December
No question, SEC basketball is better than it has been in a number of years.
The league should send its most teams to the NCAA Tournament since 2011, including the presumptive No. 1 overall seed in Kentucky.
The question, though, is if any of these teams can touch the Wildcats. Granted, few teams in any league can approach the Wildcats this season. There's no shame if Arkansas, Georgia, Texas A&M and Ole Miss can't finish off the Wildcats; Kentucky isn’t 28-0 because the SEC is a mediocre league.
At the same time, though, Kentucky hasn’t played a ranked team since a 58-50 win over Louisville on the road on Dec. 27. That changes Saturday when unanimous No. 1 Kentucky faces No. 18 Arkansas.
Does that mean that win streak will come to an end at Rupp Arena? Even though Arkansas is having its best season since at least 2008, upsetting Kentucky, at least so far this season, has been impossible.
Arkansas at Kentucky
Site: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Time: Saturday, 4 p.m. Eastern
What’s up for grabs?
Kentucky’s undefeated season. If Kentucky is going to go to the SEC Tournament undefeated, this week may be the toughest stretch of the year. The Wildcats will face arguably the No. 2 team in the league in Arkansas and then face a solid Georgia team in Athens — the Bulldogs lost in Lexington on Feb. 3 without top player Marcus Thornton.
You’ll tune in to watch: Bobby Portis vs. Willie Cauley-Stein
The top contender for SEC Player of the Year may play for Arkansas rather than the nation’s No. 1 team. That’s as much of a reflection of Kentucky’s overall talent and balance as Portis’ season itself at 17.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-11 sophomore takes on the toughest assignment for any forward in the country against Cauley-Stein and Kentucky’s bigs.
Pivotal player: Andrew Harrison
Kentucky’s sophomore point guard has been all over the place in recent weeks, 23 points and seven assists against Georgia one game, one point and two assists against Florida the next. Coming off of five points, three assists and no turnovers against Mississippi State, Harrison now faces the toughest pressing and trapping team in the SEC. Arkansas is 15th nationally in defensive turnover rate (23.3 percent).
Pivotal player II: Michael Qualls
Arkansas swept its regular season meetings against Kentucky last season largely due to the 6-foot-6 guard Qualls. The junior scored 18 points against Kentucky in Fayetteville and 14 points in Lexington, shooting a combined 11-of-17 from the field. Will Qualls and Anthlon Bell be able to knock down shots from the perimeter to keep Kentucky’s defense honest?
Biggest question: By how much will Kentucky rule the offensive glass?
This is the biggest advantage Kentucky will have against Arkansas, or most teams. The Wildcats lead the SEC in offensive rebound rate in league games (36.9 percent) while the Razorbacks are last in the league in defensive rebound rate. In Arkansas’ last game, an 81-75 win over Texas A&M, the Aggies destroyed the Hogs on the glass for 22 offensive boards.
David Fox: Kentucky 70-60
Mitch Light: Kentucky 73-64
Jake Rose: Kentucky 81-65