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Kentucky will walk to the SEC title? Not so fast

Conventional wisdom just bit the dust.

Actually, it fell flat on its face in the dust and swallowed a mouthful.

Conventional wisdom has held that the SEC had one good team and one good team only, and that good team was so much better than everyone else it would waltz through the league calendar without barely breaking a sweat.

But that one good team was tugging on its shorts as the final minutes ticked away Saturday night, out of breath, out of answers and out of first place in the SEC.

Kentucky did not merely lose to Florida in Gainesville. The Wildcats left skid marks in the newly refurbished O’Dome. They were completely run out of the gym by the Gators 88-66. It was the Wildcats’ third loss in four games, and were it not for a Malik Monk hero shot and a J.J. Frazier missed jumper, they’d be staring at a four-game skid.

The team that couldn’t lose the SEC now sits behind red-hot South Carolina (winner of four in a row) and the 24th-ranked Gators (in the head-to-head, though tied in the win-loss column).

No. 8 Kentucky has plenty of time to right things and a schedule that works in its favor. LSU comes to Rupp Arena next. Kentucky forward Bam Adebayo could play with one arm, and guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk could tie their legs together a la a three-legged race, and Kentucky still couldn’t lose at home to the Tigers. Down the stretch, the Wildcats don’t play South Carolina and play just two teams with above-.500 league records – at Alabama and versus Florida.

But it wasn’t supposed to be this complicated. That preseason conventional wisdom wasn’t built on hunches. The Wildcats, who have lost to four of the six currently ranked teams they have played, have more talent than anyone else in the league.

Perhaps, though, they are quickly — finally? — learning that talent isn’t enough.

This time there was no excuse — no ill De’Aaron Fox, the de facto explanation for the near loss to Georgia in overtime. Fox didn’t start on Saturday but played the bulk of the game. No, Kentucky got beat — got beat soundly like a gong — because the Gators played harder.

The disjointed Cats dished out seven assists on 23 made buckets. Florida handed out 18 on 30. Kentucky coughed up 13 turnovers but couldn’t capitalize on the 18 miscues the Gators committed.

Most telling: Florida, ranked 119th in rebounding margin, outrebounded a team that ranks 38th … by 22 boards.

That’s simply effort, and the Wildcats couldn’t match the Gators on the glass or pretty much anywhere else on the floor.

And now, as conventional wisdom tries to right itself from its face-plant, the one thing everyone knew for sure — that Kentucky would win the walkover SEC — doesn’t seem so certain any longer.


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