Will the Cats finish SEC play strong? Our staff predicts.

Kentucky sophomore guard Ashton Hagans high fives fans after the game against Georgia on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 89-79. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Kernel sports editors, Erika Bonner and Braden Ramsey predict the second half of the men’s basketball season.

Ashton Hagans currently leads the conference in assists per game with 7.3. Will he finish off the season as the SEC assist leader?

Erika: I think he will. The margin between Hagans and Florida’s Andrew Nembhard, who is second in the SEC in assists, is quite large. Hagans has 131 on the season for 7.3 per game, while Nembhard has 110 on the season for 6.1 per game. Kentucky’s offense is at its best when Hagans is finding guys to dish it to, and I don’t think that will slow down any time soon.

Braden: He should. As Erika mentioned, he has a comfortable lead on Nembhard, and the two players have the same number of games remaining. Kentucky’s offense stagnates when Hagans isn’t running the show, so he will see more than enough minutes each night to produce at his current clip, which will keep him at the top.

What will Kentucky’s record be heading into the SEC Tournament?

Erika: I’m going with 25-6. With so much parity in college basketball, especially in the SEC, it’s a hard thing to predict because anything can happen on any given night. However, I think Kentucky will only drop a couple more.

Braden: 24-7. Despite the terrible week Auburn, and the poor strength of schedule rating it has, there is a reason it was No. 4 in the country. I think Kentucky splits with the Tigers, and drops two conference road games in what has been the wackiest college basketball season in recent memory.

Will Kentucky defeat Tennessee in the Volunteer state for the first time since 2015?

Erika: I think they will, although winning in Thompson-Boling Arena is not an easy task. I think I have permanent hearing damage from when the Cats got smacked by the Volunteers in Knoxville last year.

Braden: It looks promising. While the two teams are pretty even defensively, each of Kentucky’s core four average more points per game than the highest scoring Vol. But you can never discount the impact a raucous crowd and home court advantage will have. As of now, it seems like a game Kentucky should win. So was South Carolina. This year has been too unpredictable to make any guarantees, but if my hand was forced, I’d pick Kentucky.

Do any Kentucky players make the AP All-SEC first team? If so, who?

Erika: The first person I thought of for this question was Ashton Hagans, but I agree with Braden in the sense that it could also very well by Nick Richards. I mention Hagans because Kentucky’s offense essentially runs through him at the point, he’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the country and he’s starting to shoot the ball a lot better. But again, with the new “junior year Nick Richards,” I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he ended up being an AP All-SEC first teamer.

Braden: If the Cats hold at or near the top of the standings, they should manage to snag one spot. I assume they will, and I lean toward Nick Richards being that representative. He is one of the top rebounders and shot blockers in the conference, but his impact goes beyond the box score. Anyone who has watched Kentucky play this season has seen how much the overall rebounding and interior defense suffer when he is on the bench. That, and the number of quality guards in the conference hampering the possibility of a member in Kentucky’s trio at the position getting selected, is why I choose Richards.