Cats awaiting winner of Tennessee-Georgia

Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk dribbles against the Tennessee Volunteers at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY on Tuesday, February 14, 2017. Kentucky defeated Tennessee 83-58.

By Chris Angolia

As the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament, you would expect UK basketball to have the easiest quarterfinal matchup in Nashville on Friday, but if past games are any indication, the game will be far from easy.

Georgia and Tennessee are set to go toe-to-toe on Thursday night for the right to matchup with the Cats in the first quarterfinal game on Friday afternoon. Both teams gave UK all sorts of problems during the regular season in different ways, and Fridays matchup should be extremely entertaining.

The lower seeded of the two teams is Tennessee who enters the SEC Tournament ranked ninth after finishing conference play 8-10. And up until recently, the Vols found themselves square on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but now need to make a run at the SEC title in order to extended their season. The one thing that had the Volunteers in the discussion for an NCAA Tournament bid, was their win over UK.

When UK went in to Knoxville in late January and were sent home with an 82-80 loss, it began the teams worst stretch this year. After the loss to the Vols, the Cats lost two of three before head coach John Calipari ‘rebooted’ the team, and during that ‘reboot’ UK took down the Vols at Rupp Arena 83-58.

Regardless of the fact that UK blew out Tennessee when the two teams last met, if the two matchups were any indication, it could be interesting.

It could be the Vols team that beat UK that shows up, or it could be the one that was blown out at Rupp, but clearly UK’s performance could factor in to that. And currently sitting on the outside looking in, Tennessee would not only need to get into the matchup with UK by beating Georgia, but most likely would have to win the SEC tournament to get in barring complete chaos.

As for Georgia, the Bulldogs sit just outside of the bubble heading into the SEC tournament, but could receive a bit of a boost on Thursday. Sidelined since Georgia’s last matchup at home against UK, big man Yante Maten, who is tied for the team lead in scoring, was cleared to return to basketball earlier in the week.

It is still to be determined as to whether or not Maten will play against Tennessee, but regardless if he plays or not, a win against the Vols would set up the third meeting between UK and UGA. And the first two matchups between the two teams were extremely entertaining.

The first meeting saw Malik Monk take over in the second half and overtime to will UK to victory at Rupp Arena, and the second had Georgia’s J.J. Frazier drop 36 in a raucous environment in Athens. Even though Georgia could not beat the Cats in either game, no team played UK as competitively in two games as the Bulldogs did.

Whether it be Tennessee or Georgia who UK ends up playing Friday, their half of the bracket is much more difficult than Florida’s half. On the Cats’ side of the bracket, the four seed is South Carolina who despite recent struggles, is still a dangerous team. As for the Gators side of the bracket, if UK had been on that side, they would have had comfortable victories over every team on that side except their lone loss to Florida.

It may not matter who UK matches up against because if they continue to improve, that combined with talent will push the Cats over the edge and into the semifinals.