On days like last Saturday, they tell you to throw out the records. Rivalry games like Kentucky-Louisville are supposed to occur in a vacuum, a place where bragging rights supersede any other consideration. At leas that’s how the thinking goes. It’s a quaint notion, indeed, but this latest installment of the Bluegrass State rivalry turned out to be all about the records. To be more specific, Kentucky’s record. With all due respect to Louisville’s previously unblemished loss tally – and even more respect to a stacked ACC – the Cardinals were never going to chase a perfect season, even if they had found a way to take down the Wildcats. But for Kentucky, with its stiffest test now in the rear-view and the zero in its loss column unchanged, dreams of an undefeated season have begun to transition out of fantasy and into reality. It was all anyone wanted to talk about after the game: Is 40-0 really possible?
It is hard to look at the Kentucky schedule and find a single remaining game that it is likely to lose. This much is true. Using KenPom as our basis, the Wildcats are predicted to have at least an 89 percent chance of winning in 15 of their 18 SEC games. The three exceptions are visits to South Carolina on January 24 (84% win share), Florida on February 7 (77% win share), and Georgia on March 3 (84% win share). Florida’s best win this season is over Yale; the Gamecocks have beaten only one team in KenPom’s top 125 (Oklahoma State); and Georgia has two top-70 wins (Seton Hall and Colorado). Do we really expect any of these teams to prove capable of toppling one of the most dominant college basketball teams of the 21st century? I don’t think so.
Getting through the SEC unscathed – conference tournament included — is definitely possible for the ‘Cats. But is it likely? As difficult as it is to look down the schedule and find an SEC foe capable of beating them, winning 21 straight games against major conference teams is not as easy a task as many are suggesting. Even KenPom gives Kentucky just a 24.3 percent chance of ripping off the next 18 in a row. Avoiding a road trip to Arkansas on the schedule this year helps the cause, but won’t there be a night – most likely away from Rupp Arena — where the shots just aren’t falling for Coach Cal’s young bunch? They are shooting just 32.1 percent from three-point range and 66.2 percent from the line; imagining a 40-minute offensive drought is not too difficult, particularly in a foreign environment. Of course, you could use those same percentages to make a different but equally compelling point. Kentucky has been utterly dominant to this point, despite those inefficiencies — why even worry about them?