Breaking down the rest of the season

Mrs. Tyler Thompsonover 8 years

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The theme of this season has been one step forward and two steps back, right? Well, after Nerlens Noel's heartbreaking injury, the Cats have definitely taken a step back as far as their NCAA Tournament resume goes. Yesterday, NCAA Selection Committee Chair Mike Bobinski said that the group will watch the Cats closely over the next 4 1/2 weeks of basketball to see how they perform without Nerlens, but that they would take their performance on the season as a whole into consideration as well. So, with seven games and the SEC Tournament left, let's take a look at each matchup to see what the Cats have to do to make it to the Big Dance: February 16th: at Tennessee Obviously, this is the most important game for a variety of reasons. It will be our first glimpse of the Flat-Top free Cats, which still makes my stomach lurch a bit, and I don't expect to be a fluid transition to say the least. Jarnell Stokes has improved a lot since his last outing against the Cats back in January, when Nerlens Noel held him to 4 points and 5 rebounds. Since then, he's averaging 16.1 points and 10.6 rebounds. Willie Cauley-Stein can't let Stokes push him around in the paint, and must challenge him on the offensive end. More importantly, the Cats must show some team unity and fire in the wake of Noel's injury. They've lacked both most of the season, but with their postseason chances on the line and no Nerlens to lean on, it's make or break time. Status: MUST WIN February 20th: VANDERBILT Vanderbilt is terrible, and if we can't beat them at home....well, maybe we don't deserve to go to the Tournament. Status: MUST WIN February 23rd: MISSOURI (GAMEDAY) Missouri has been in a bit of a slump during the conference season, especially away from home, losing all four SEC road games so far. The Tigers lost their top 25 ranking after losing at Texas A&M, but managed to win at Mississippi State, a feat not quite worth bragging about. The Cats will need the support of a rowdy home crowd on GameDay to keep the Tigers at bay. Status: TOSS-UP February 27th: MISSISSIPPI STATE Mississippi State is bad. Like "lost nine straight" bad. We should welcome them into Rupp with open arms. Hopefully the Cats can gain some confidence during this game, especially with Andrew Wiggins watching in the stands. Status: MUST WIN March 2nd: at Arkansas This is where things start to get tricky. At home, the Razorbacks are 14-3 this season and undefeated in conference play. Bud Walton Arena is so kind that it helped them upset mighty Florida, 80-69. The Razorbacks are rolling behind BJ Young and Marshall Powell, a physical power forward who could be a matchup nightmare for the Cats. Even with Nerlens, this game would be a challenge. Status: TOSS-UP March 7th: at Georgia Georgia is 6-5 in conference play and like their record would suggest, are neither great nor ghastly. They've lost to Florida twice, and Missouri once. They've got a string of wins over the SEC mid-level teams, but their loss to Mississippi State and offensive woes have me thinking that this could be a manageable win for the Cats. Status: MUST WIN March 9th: FLORIDA Even on Senior Day, this ain't gonna happen. I'd love to be wrong. However, if the team can rally behind a strong crowd, a win over Florida would be a huge boost to the Cats' resume. Status: NO WAY March 13th - 17th: SEC Tournament Depending on their record coming in, I think the Cats need at least two wins in the SEC Tournament to comfortably make the Big Dance. Obviously, the easiest way to insure their ticket is to win the whole thing, but even the most optimistic part of me doesn't see that happening. So, to sum up, I think the Cats need to win at least five on their remaining seven games to comfortably go dancing. Looking at the schedule, there are four relatively easy wins, two games that could go either way, and one game that may be out of reach. We'll know much more about how this team will respond after Saturday, but let me hear your thoughts.

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2021-09-28