Three Takeaways from Kentucky’s Big Win Over Florida

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 27th, 2017

The SEC regular season championship was most likely on the line Saturday when SEC co-leaders Kentucky and Florida met in Lexington. Both teams entered the game at 13-2 in conference play (23-5 overall), but somewhat trending in opposite directions. The Gators entered Rupp Arena on a nine-game winning streak, including an 88-66 shellacking of the Wildcats in Gainesville. Kentucky, on the other hand, had lost three of four in late January and early February before putting together a shakier five-game winning streak that included tougher than expected games against SEC doormats LSU and Missouri. In the end, the blue mist of Rupp Arena worked its magic, as Kentucky rode Malik Monk to the 30 second-half points to prevail with a 76-66 victory. With one week left in the regular season, this game effectively decided the SEC regular season crown, but it also told us a lot about what we can expect from the SEC’s best this postseason. Here are three takeaways from this weekend’s game.

Malik Monk is heating up (photo via The Big Lead).

1. Malik Monk can shoot Kentucky into the Final Four. It is rare for the Big Blue Nation to be critical of its Wildcats, but Kentucky fans have been overly pessimistic lately about the likelihood of John Calipari advancing to his fifth Final Four in the last seven years. It is easy to see why. Kentucky’s tendency to become offensively stagnant because of its inconsistent three-point shooting means even its wins are not coming easily. The first half on Saturday was more of the same, with the Wildcats shooting less than 30 percent from the field. Then Monk happened. The gifted freshman blew up to score 30 of his game-high 33 points in the second half, proving once again that Kentucky is never out of a game so long as he is on the floor. The scary part for the rest of college basketball is that Monk has gotten even more dangerous since conference play began. His three-point shooting percentage has increased to 45 percent in SEC play (from 42 percent on the entire season) and he is drawing an absurd 6.0 fouls per game. Monk’s rapidly developing arsenal as more than just a catch-and-shoot player could make him unstoppable down the stretch. Calipari would love to find some additional offensive consistency outside of Monk (Bam Adebayo could be the answer), but the freshman is already good enough to carry the Wildcats for long periods as it is.

Florida since John Egbunu’s injury.

2. Florida is inconsistent without John Egbunu. Florida’s junior big man — who was averaging 7.8 PPG and 6.6 RPG — went down with a season-ending ACL injury against Auburn two weeks ago. Since then the Gators, despite winning two of three games, have looked inconsistent and slightly out of sorts. Kentucky managed nearly 1.10 points per possession against Florida on Saturday afternoon, but perhaps the biggest impact the has come on the glass where Kentucky controlled both ends. Unfortunately, Florida does not have much time to figure out where it will replace Egbunu’s production in these key areas.

Where in the world is Wenyen Gabriel?

3. The disappearance of Wenyen Gabriel. Gabriel at midseason gave signs that he was well on his way to becoming Kentucky’s x-factor. He contributed 23 points and eight rebounds in the Wildcats’ road victory over LSU, for example, but his minutes and offensive role have diminished in the five games since. Can the freshman forward find his way to becoming a major contributor down the stretch or will Calipari instead turn to senior Derek Willis at the important stretch four position? Gabriel’s effort in hustling his way through 19 solid minutes against Florida was tremendous, but he needs to give more for Kentucky to reach its ultimate goal of playing Glendale in early April.

Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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