By - Ira D. Combs
Director / Syndicated Columnist
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
Each season any successful college basketball coach will tell each player on his roster that there will be several different test that you will have to pass usually in the pre season in order to earn a roll on this team and then in turn he will also tell his team collectively that they will have several different test that the team will have to pass to be a success and reach that ultimate goal of earning the right to play in the post season and in the eyes of the Commonwealth of Kentucky there's only one post season and it's called the Big Dance or the NCAA tourney .
All teams will have bumps in the road , how long they last and how severe they effect the fortunes of the team will ultimately be decided by their collective play as a team .
That takes us to early January and the present state of this UK basketball team .
The question that begs to be ask concerning the present day Cats is , has this rendition of the Kentucky Wildcats been battle tested enough to survive the roads across the south because four of their next six games are in Dixie where the college football fraternity of ultimate diehards have only one thing to look forward to until spring football practice begins and that's the day they all live for during winters across the south . The day they can see their basketball team beat the blue bloods of Kentucky .
On the plus side all four of these away games over the next two weeks are against teams that have not been mentioned to date in the top 25 or the top 50 , as a matter of fact three of the four have pretty much been stamped as dragging up the rear of the conference ( Auburn , Tennessee , Georgia ) with LSU being mentioned by some media gurus as possibly fighting for a spot somewhere in the post season probably in the NIT .
Problem is basketball like all other sports is not played on paper or in the media , just ask Florida . The Gators were the first this year to catch the wrath of what road life is like in the SEC when the Tennessee Vols who set at 7 - 7 last saturday with a loss them self to 3 - 13 Austin Peay in Knoxville turned the tables on the Gators and give them their first SEC loss in their very first SEC game of the season 67 - 56 . Now the Gators are looking up at the rest of the SEC and somewhere along the way must steal a win on the road to get even .
Kentucky's first two battles this week on the road are against Auburn ( wednesday 8:00 o'clock WKYT - 27 Lexington and WYMT - 57 Hazard ) and that very same Tennessee team ( saturday Noon WKYT - 27 Lexington and WYMT - 57 Hazard ) that upset Florida .
Coach Cal's first UK team sailed thru the SEC virtually unscathed lead by John Wall and survived many close battles down the stretch of the last five minutes . Last year Cal's 2nd rendition Cats got off to an horrendous start dropping game after game in Januray until finally a Brandon Wright led Wildcat team righted the ship in mid February just in time to salvage enough of the conference season to produce a seed high enough to dodge playing on thursday of the SEC tourney .
This week starts the true test of how this Marquis Teague lead Wildcat team will fall seeding wise when it's time to draw straws for the Big Dance in March . A couple of unforseen ugly losses in conference play may be all the NCAA tournament committee is looking for to bump the Cats from a # 1 or # 2 seed and that coveted first round site of the Yum Center in Louisville .
Hopefully , Teague and his young freshman teammates took notice and learned from their experience in Bloomington , Indiana .
Post Season Projections
Since were approaching or maybe actually at the half way point of the overall college basketball season let's pull out the old crystal ball and dust it off or maybe in some spots patch it up and see if we can project NCAA tourney bids better than we did Bowl Bids back in August , surely my critics ( and I know they're out there ) remember how ugly and wrong that ended .
Let's do the overall SEC winner first , although the conference is back on an upswing it won't top out until Missouri and Texas A & M has officially arrived on the scene next year . I'll stay with old reliable Kentucky even with all it's youth to be standing alone at the top of the standings after league play is exhausted . But expect Vanderbilt and Alabama to be solid all the way thru January and February and don't let those losses that Mississippi State and Florida took last saturday night fool you either they'll both be in the hunt for the long haul as well .
As for teams that I think will put up enough wins to garner an invitation to the NCAA's Big Dance I'm going to say five teams look real good to me for March Madness candidates and those are , ( Kentucky , Florida , Vanderbilt , Mississippi State , Alabama ) . If this column would have been put together back in mid December I would of added two more conference teams to the list in Arkansas and LSU . However , after watching these two teams a little closer in recent days and looking at their home and away conference schedule I'll have to put them on the proverbial NCAA bubble for the time being . Of course each one of these seven candidates can play themselves in or out of the tourney or especially in Alabama , LSU , and Arkansas case on or off the bubble .
Hang on basketball fans where headed into another winter wonder land of college basketball and the Cats are on top once again riding high in the saddle for the moment .