February 16th 2013
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The season starts today. From the standpoint of UK's NCAA Tournament chances, that may well be the case.
At the beginning of this week, I figured the Cats would fall at Florida and this would be a huge game for the Cats' NCAA Tournament chances. I actually think the injury to Noel has lessened the significance. Why? Because it's the first game without him and if UK ends up on the bubble, it might get a bit of a pass for a loss in this spot because of having to learn to play without Noel.
I think the most important thing for the Cats to do before Selection Sunday is show they can beat a tournament-caliber opponent or two, without Noel. There are only two of those left on the schedule (unless UK should get one or two more chances in the SEC Tournament) and that means Kentucky must beat either Missouri or Florida--and if you beat both, you should be home free into the tournament.
In 2008, when Patrick Patterson was lost for the season in late February, Kentucky still played its way into the NCAA Tourney. The big difference for that team was that it had two tough senior guards in Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley.
For this UK team to play its way into the field, it will again depend on the guards. And I think the single most important player for the Cats may be Archie Goodwin and here's why. Kentucky will surely not be nearly as good on defense without Noel. So if they're going to regress on defense, they'll need to improve on offense to have a chance to be successful. I think the guys with the most upside offensively are Goodwin and Alex Poythress and since Goodwin is one best able to get his own shot, he's the one that may have the best chance to, as coach Cal often says, "become the best version of himself."
For that to happen, he must rediscover confidence in his jumper. He's averaging single digits over the last four games and at Florida, he didn't shoot a free throw for the first time this season. Get that jumper back (remember the second half against Louisville) and all of sudden, the rest of the game comes around, too, and he becomes really hard to guard again.
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