Taylor: Cats need to get healthy to make postseason run

Published 10:41 am Thursday, March 9, 2023

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The postseason has finally arrived.

Now that Kentucky has distanced itself from the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Wildcats (21-9) can improve the seeding status with a solid showing in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. A No. 3 seed with a double bye, the Wildcats won’t play in the five-day event until Friday.

That gives Kentucky some time to heal up its backcourt, but the status of Cason Wallace (ankle), C.J. Fredrick (ribs) and Sahvir Wheeler (ankle) remain a day-to-day decision. Kentucky coach John Calipari offered an update on the three players who didn’t practice on Monday.

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“They’re going to have to start practicing,” the Kentucky coach said. “You don’t just, ‘Okay, I’m ready for Friday.’ You’re going to have to get on the floor at some point and we’ll see. I can’t tell you (right now).”

For the Wildcats to make a deep run, depth will be a factor even if all three injured guards are unable to compete at full speed or even at all. To win the SEC Tournament, Kentucky will need to win three games in consecutive days. It’s not an impossible task, but one that would be easier if the Wildcats have a full roster.

Of course, Kentucky has veteran Oscar Tshiebwe in the post, and the recent emergence of Jacob Toppin and Chris Livingston has provided Calipari’s squad with a solid presence in the post. All three players complement each other, which takes the pressure off the guards.

Kentucky opened the league portion of the schedule by losing three of its first four games, including back-to-back losses to Alabama and South Carolina, respectively. The loss to the Gamecocks proved to be costly, but the Wildcats used a win at Tennessee to get back on track. Kentucky ended up sweeping the Volunteers and also swept Florida and defeated Auburn handily to increase the team’s Quadrant 1 status.

The rest of the way, Kentucky suffered a pair of defeats it would have liked to have gotten back, including a road loss at Georgia and a disappointing setback to Vanderbilt on Senior Night. A surprise win at Arkansas gave Kentucky a third-place finish in the league despite the loss to the Commodores and the rocky start to open the conference.

Kentucky has won five of its past six games entering the postseason, but a few teams in the league also have been playing well down the stretch, which could provide for a balanced and entertaining tournament this week in Nashville.

Missouri, which tied Tennessee for fourth place in the final standings, carries a four-game winning streak into the tournament, while Vanderbilt, Kentucky’s potential opponent on Friday, has won three straight games. Kentucky is in the same bracket as Vandy and league runner-up Texas A&M.

Kentucky has a chance to make some noise in the postseason, but would need a dose of magic similar to the heroics that Antonio Reeves provided for the Wildcats when he scored a career-high 37 points in a win at Arkansas last Saturday in Fayetteville.

Anything can happen in March. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. It’s going to be bumpy