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UK's postseason hopes involve a familiar face

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BSB 08_09 UK_Vandy Game 3 web 42.jpgAs conference play is now officially halfway over, the race is on for the last spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament:

1. Arkansas (12-3 SEC, 31-6 overall)
2. LSU (11-4, 30-6)
3. South Carolina (11-4, 28-8)
4. Florida (10-5, 25-10)
5. Vanderbilt (8-7, 29-9)
6. Auburn (8-7, 24-13)
7. Mississippi (8-7, 24-13)
8. Kentucky (5-10, 22-14)
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9. Alabama (5-10, 22-15)
10. Mississippi State (5-10, 19-17)
11. Tennessee (4-11, 18-19)
12. Georgia (3-12, 11-25)

After salvaging a game in its most recent SEC series against No. 7 Florida with a 6-5 win Sunday, the Kentucky Wildcats (22-14, 5-10) still have postseason life when it comes to the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

If the season ended today, the Cats would qualify. Above, you'll see UK in a three-way tie with Alabama and former UK head coach John Cohen's Mississippi State Bulldogs (all three have 5-10 league records) for the eighth and final spot in Hoover's annual postseason tournament.

Kentucky has a tiebreaker advantage over the Crimson Tide after a 2-1 series win at home versus Alabama last weekend. The Mississippi State tiebreaker gets a bit hairy, however.

According to SEC rules, the tiebreaker would be contingent on won-lost percentage of tied teams versus the No. 1 seed and proceeding through the No. 8 seed. Since both teams were swept by Arkansas, the LSU/South Carolina results will likely determine who qualifies, unless Florida can jump up in the standings.

Since the Gators swept Mississippi State earlier in the year, Kentucky's win on Sunday could be huge in determining its postseason fate, as it would give the Cats the tiebreaker over MSU. In this scenario, the Cats get the nod for the eighth spot over Cohen's Bulldogs.

Since UK doesn't play MSU this season, it will take some time to see who is left standing.

There are few teams in the country that have faced more adversity than Gary Henderson's Wildcats so far this season. An NCAA eligibility issue resulted in the departure of LHP James Paxton, the highest-drafted player to return to college for the 2010 season. Kentucky's next-best arm, sophomore Alex Meyer, is currently out for three-plus weeks with mononucleosis.

All-American second baseman Chris Bisson broke his nose after being hit by a pitch in San Diego against Monmouth and is still trying to get back into the "swing" of things at the plate. Standouts Andy Burns (finger) and Braden Kapteyn (back) have also battled nagging injuries in 2010.

Kentucky has been right in the mix in nearly all of its games this season. Ten of its 12 losses have been by four runs or less, as the Cats have fallen in four one-run games, three two-run games, and a pair of three-run contests.

Dealing with injuries and tough losses is something that every team faces, especially in the SEC.

With five remaining SEC series, Kentucky will face (in order) sixth-place Auburn, 11th-place Tennessee, third-place South Carolina, second-place LSU and 12th-place Georgia. Mississippi State faces off against (in order) ninth-place Alabama, seventh-place Ole Miss, sixth-place Auburn, fifth-place Vanderbilt and second-place LSU. Here's what to do if you're a UK baseball fan hoping for Hoover:

April 23-25: Hope the Cats can take one or two on the plains at Auburn next weekend, as Mississippi State and Alabama are likely to beat up on each other. What you don't want to see here is a series sweep.

May 2-5: UK needs to keep the SEC's bottom-dwellers on the bottom, and it would be great to come out of Knoxville, Tenn., with a series win over Tennessee. Also, keep an eye on the Ole Miss-MSU series, which is a huge rivalry. A Rebels series win would be huge here, especially considering that they'll be in Starkville, Miss., going for it.

May 7-9: MSU travels to Auburn, where you'd like to see the Tigers play well. Kentucky has a stout South Carolina team at home, where at least one win would be great (MSU won one game in their series with the Gamecocks earlier in 2010).

May 14-16: Vanderbilt travels to Starkville on the same weekend where UK will stay at home against another top opponent. The second-to-last SEC weekend pits the Cats against LSU and is likely to decide who's going to Hoover and who will watch it on TV.

May 20-22: Kentucky travels to Georgia for their last three regular-season games and will try to take advantage of a Georgia team that will be looking to end to a dismal season in Athens, Ga., on a good note. Mississippi State travels to LSU, who will likely be playing for an SEC crown and a No. 1 overall tournament seed.

Tip your caps to the Cats so far for hanging in there in 2010 after losing two of their three weekend starters for extended amounts of time and dealing with a plethora of injuries to their lineup. Obviously, we'll know a lot more about Kentucky's postseason chances as the next couple weekends take shape. But even though the Cats don't have MSU's Bulldogs on their 2010 schedule, you'd be a fool to think they won't be facing off against each other this year.

Kentucky's next two midweek games are also huge. This Tuesday, UK travels to No. 18 Western Kentucky, looking to even the score with the Hilltoppers, who are having a great year. Next week, the Cats shoot down Interstate-64 as they go for the sweep at top-10 foe Louisville.

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