On The Mark: Finishing Out the Season
02/28/2012 06:51 PM
After watching Kentucky clinch the SEC regular season title, it may have crossed your mind that there are still some big games to play before tournament time. Questions begin to arise. What does Kentucky need to do throughout the rest of the season? What should we be looking for even though these games aren’t as “important” as early on? Well, don’t kid yourself. These games are even more important. Kentucky needs to go into the post-season with the same fire they’ve been playing with in the SEC. Here’s how:
I’ve said it all season, but Marquis Teague (as true with John Wall and Brandon Knight) is the key component in Kentucky having a blowout victory or having the game come down to the wire. It has nothing to do with points either. Scoring is an added bonus. He needs to keep doing things that are hard to see as fans: controlling the tempo, maintaining a high assist-turnover ratio, and forcing the other PG into silly mistakes that take the other team out of rhythm. Look for Teague to dish the ball out and manage the game at an even higher level to close out the regular season.
It’s also important going into these last games that nothing changes too drastically for Kentucky. Nothing should mess with this team’s confidence, but one pitfall of closing out the season in this fashion is guys thinking they can take a game off. Going to Florida unprepared mentally could end up in a bad performance that lingers for a while. The Cats can’t have that because tournament time is right around the corner. If Kentucky continues outrebounding the opposition like they have, winning the battle in the paint, and holding the other team to a low shooting percentage each player should be flying high going into the post-season. When these three components are true, the Cats can’t lose.
I’m often asked: should Kentucky lose a game before the SEC and NCAA tournaments so that they refocus and come back stronger? I personally don’t agree with that. I think the Indiana loss was enough. Great teams lose all the time and then lose a few games later. In my opinion, losing sometimes shakes the confidence of a great team and makes them start questioning the very aspects that make them a great team. “I should’ve shot more.” “They should’ve gotten me the ball.” “I should’ve played more.” These are sometimes comments after a tough loss. There is no room for that on Kentucky at this point. Why mess with it? This year’s team is so impressive because they truly win on the defensive end and if offense is clicking, they win huge. Also, there are no big egos on the team so losing would accomplish nothing.
Lastly, Darius Miller, T Jones, and Doron Lamb will play a huge part in keeping the team’s focus. They’ve been there before. At this point in the season, no game can be overlooked… even if #8 is staring them in the face.