Commentary: Can Wildcats be caught?

SEC opponents have roughly six more shots to beat the nation's new No. 1

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 26, 2010 

LEXINGTON, Ky.

FOR THE SAKE of argument, let's just say that somehow, some way, through bad luck or bad breaks or bad karma, Kentucky will lose a basketball game this season.

Now that may be a bad subject to bring up on the very day John Calipari's Wildcats ascend to the top of the polls, but the odds of a team, even a team as wicked as this Kentucky team, making it through the campaign unbeaten are still not good.

So where does the loss come?

It's not coming at home. No way, no how. Just can't see Calipari's 'Cats slipping up in front of the home folks. Unlike some previous editions, this Kentucky team doesn't seem to get all that bothered when the Rupp patrons grow restless, or tend to talk among themselves when Kentucky is playing lesser foes. It takes care of business anyway.

So the guess here is that when the 'Cats lose - or if the 'Cats lose - it will come somewhere beyond the friendly confines, at one of the six remaining venues left on the 'Cats' SEC calendar.

Let's assess the chances:

- At South Carolina (Tuesday): Can't see the 'Cats crumbling in Columbia. Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn appears to be feeling the effects of losing both Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes. The Carolinians may still be in a funk after losing that last-second heartbreaker at Florida on Saturday. Kentucky should cruise.

- At LSU (Feb. 6): Please. The 'Cats could probably party on Bourbon Street late into Saturday morning and still batter the Tigers in Baton Rouge on Saturday afternoon. Trent Johnson's team is off to a wretched 0-5 league start. And it doesn't figure to get much better.

- At Mississippi State (Feb. 16): Jarvis "Swat" Varnado and his band of Bulldogs could spell trouble in this ESPN game - except that Rick Stansbury's club is so darn inconsistent. It won at Ole Miss but then lost at reeling Alabama. Hard to know which State version will show up at the Hump when the 'Cats come calling. One factor in Mississippi State's favor is that Kentucky will visit Starkville three days after its College GameDay game with Tennessee at Rupp.

- At Vanderbilt (Feb. 20): This is the third game in a tough three-game stretch, what with Tennessee at home and then Mississippi State on the road. Plus, no matter what out-of-the-way gymnasium John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins may have played in before, they've never played at the ultra-quirky Memorial Gym. Plus, Vanderbilt is good. The Commodores don't have any great players, but they don't have any bad ones, either. If State doesn't stop the 'Cats, Kevin Stallings might.

- At Tennessee (Feb. 27): Bruce Pearl has done a magical job patching the Vols back together after Tyler Smith and Company's unfortunate traffic stop. But does Tennessee's loss at Georgia on Saturday mean the air is starting to leak out of the big orange balloon? One thing's for sure, Pearl will have Thompson-Boling bring the thunder for this noon game on CBS.

- At Georgia (March 3): The advice here is proceed with caution. Georgia is the conference sleeper, having played everyone close before toppling Tennessee. Trey Thompkins can play. Mark Fox looks like he can coach. The 'Dawgs gave the 'Cats a run for their money in Rupp. On their home floor in Athens, the "Dawgs could take the 'Cats from the land of the unbeaten.

And if any one of those teams does just that, as John Calipari keeps saying, "It's been a great start to the season."

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