LEXINGTON — Kentucky starts Southeastern Conference play Saturday at Georgia in a game that UK coach John Calipari has stressed for months would be a difficult task for his Cats because of Georgia’s improvement.
Calipari was asked Monday during the SEC coaches teleconference what he thought about the strength of the SEC this year, especially considering several teams had lost to mid-major opponents in November and December.
“I am zeroed in on our half (of the SEC) right now. The West Division five years ago was the dominant side and now it has shifted (to the East),” Calipari said.
He then rattled off the impressive non-conference wins SEC teams had over Kansas State, Villanova, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Xavier and others, as well as the overall strength of schedule many SEC teams had. He noted how UK already had a top-15 non-conference schedule and that it would stay that way due to playing eight games against Tennessee, Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia in conference play.
“Vandy may be the best team in our league, and Georgia is right there with them,” Calipari said. “This league will be fine. I am watching Vandy and already thinking I do not want to coach in that end zone. I am watching Georgia and I am scared to death. If Tennessee was good enough to beat Villanova and Georgetown, they can beat anybody. As soon as Florida figures out what to do, that will be an almost impossible game to play down there.
“We are fine (as a conference). I still think we will get five teams in (the NCAA Tournament), maybe six.”
After his team overcame a 12-point deficit in the first half Monday night to beat Penn, Calipari again wanted to stress how difficult UK’s road in the SEC Eastern Division would be.
“Our 10 games in the Eastern half, I'm put up against any other league's that they are playing their teams when they are not playing doubles. They are not playing teams twice; they are playing them once,” Calipari said. “So our 16 (conference) games, we have got 10 of them on are on this half. Think about that. Our strength of schedule at the end the year will stay in the top 15 or 20. Maybe higher. On a team that's this young, all freshman and inexperienced? Yeah. It will be a tough road for us.”