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From the Pressbox: Pre-Arkansas notes

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Here are some interesting statistical notes for tomorrow's matchup at Arkansas...

Kentucky has averaged 13.7 turnovers per game in SEC play and Arkansas is a team that will do its best to exploit the Cats in that department. The Razorbacks lead the SEC in forcing turnovers at almost 18 per game.

Arkansas is second in the league at 70.8 possessions per game according to, so Kentucky should find itself in an up-tempo game on Saturday. UK is 3-0 against the teams in the SEC that rank in top four of most possessions per game (Ole Miss, LSU, Missouri), while three of the Cats' four league losses have come against teams ranked among the bottom four in possessions (Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M). Vanderbilt averages the fewest possessions per game and UK's two wins against the 'Dores came by a total of only six points.

Neither Kentucky nor Arkansas relies too heavily on 3-pointers. The Hogs get 56.8 percent of their points on 2-point shots (second-most in the SEC) and that's just ahead of UK's 56.4 percent.

Cats not out of bubble trouble just yet

Kentucky certainly enhanced its NCAA Tournament resume last Saturday when it beat Missouri, but the Wildcats still have not moved out of the land of bubble talk.

"There's not a lot of margin for error. Beating Florida would mean a lot because that's the one quality win left that you can get in the SEC. The win over Missouri gives you reason for hope but now they've got to take that act on the road. They may need to win both of those road games," said bracket analyst Jerry Palm this week on "The Leach Report" radio show. "It depends on what other teams do. You might think you've done enough but somebody else might do something better."

Palm says UK's worksheet is "clearly" short on quality wins but he says one factor in the Cats' favor is a lack of losses to "bad teams (with triple-digit RPIs).  

"Texas A&M (86th in the RPI) is probably their worst loss. The fact that they haven't lost to the South Carolinas and Auburns is good," Palm noted. "There's at least a level of consistency there."

Palm believes the selection committee will not penalize Kentucky for not having Nerlens Noel when it comes to picking the field for the tournament. However, if UK gets in, he thinks not having Noel could hurt them from a seeding standpoint.  

What's the best-case scenario for UK for seeding?

"I can't see any scenario where Kentucky is wearing a white jersey in its first game, unless they're in the play-in game," Palm said.

On UK's potential breakthrough

John Calipari has been pushing various buttons all season long, trying to find the right ones to motivate this particular team to reach its potential. We saw this play out two years ago, when Kentucky was still struggling to win close games on the road in late February but that group jelled in the final week of the regular season and went all the way to the Final Four.

We'll see how these young Cats fare on the road in the next two games, but from what I saw last week, I think Calipari and his staff may have finally had a breakthrough. Maybe it was the crisis moment of a 30-point loss to Tennessee, maybe it was dodgeball, maybe it was something else or some combination, but the Cats looked more comfortable and focused in their wins over Vandy, Missouri and Mississippi State.

Reading the ups and downs of a group of young men in the glare of a spotlight like UK basketball is no easy thing to do, but Calipari certainly seems to have a knack for it.
I talked with Tony Barnhart about that in a recent appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show.

"The hardest thing for coaches to do, and  a coach told me this a long time ago, is to get 18-year old young men, who are obviously focused on their goals and their dreams, to believe in something bigger than themselves," Barnhart said. "That's hard to do and the great coaches know how to do it."

18-0 never been done in SEC play

No SEC team has ever gone 18-0 in league play and it was on this date that Kentucky's Sam Bowie made sure that stat remained intact.

An LSU team that would eventually reach the Final Four came into Rupp on March 1 with a perfect 17-0 mark but Kentucky pulled off a 73-71 upset.  Bowie preserved the victory with a block of Howard Carter's baseline jumper, in a play similar to one Anthony Davis made last year against North Carolina to protect UK's win that day.

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