Kentucky's Davion Mintz (10) drives near Florida's Scottie Lewis (23) and Osayi Osifo (15) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky Basketball Aims to Get Back on Track in Oxford

After winning three consecutive games, the Kentucky Wildcats entered Saturday’s matchup against Florida riding high, hoping to build off their recent momentum.

Instead, despite leading by double digits early, the Wildcats failed to hang on falling 71-67. While a huge road victory for the Gators, the loss was a tough blow for a Kentucky team that’s fighting to stay alive as March heats up. Now off to Oxford to face an Ole Miss team, getting back in the win column is no easy task.

A Shaky Season for Kentucky

Now in the first week of March, the blue-blood Wildcats are in unchartered territory. Kentucky sits at (8-14) on the year, a winning percentage of just .364. Since 2010, the Wildcats season average winning percentage was nearly .800. A loss tonight and Kentucky is in serious danger of finishing with their worst winning percentage in nearly a century. The team hasn’t won less than 30 percent of their games since 1927 when thy went (3-13). Overall, Kentucky has only had a winning percentage below .400 just thrice since 1920.

Maybe the craziest part of all of this, Kentucky can still win a championship.  A road win tonight will be the first step in a long, difficult road to the Big Dance.

Essentially, Kentucky’s only hope to remain alive for March Madness play is to win the SEC tournament. Winning tonight can help bolster seeding for the conference tournament, but a win or loss doesn’t really change much of the big picture.

Kentucky’s B.J. Boston (3) looks for an opening against Florida’s Colin Castleton during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Winning the SEC tournament isn’t impossible for Kentucky. The Wildcats had the top-rated recruiting class coming into the year, per 247 sports. Based purely on recruiting rankings, Kentucky is the nation’s second most talented team, behind only the Duke Blue Devils who are also having a down year.

A recruiting class headlined by five-stars Brandon Boston Jr. (5th ranked player coming out of high school) and Terrence Clarke (8th ranked player) still leads the way for Kentucky.

Both Boston and Clarke average double-digit points per game.

This talented Kentucky team must come together as a unit to firmly hit their stride. For now, the Ole Miss Rebels stand in their way.

A Tough Road Test Tuesday

For the Rebels, the team’s success runs through star senior guard Devontae Shuler. Shuler averages a team-leading 16 points per game on the season. He also is the unit’s top facilitator averaging over three assists per game.

It’s been an up and down season for the Rebels as they have bizarre combination of great wins and bad losses. In just February alone, Ole Miss has wins over then-ranked Tennessee and Missouri (twice). But they also have losses to (12-11) Mississippi State and (7-13) Vanderbilt in the last week.

The inconsistency makes the rebels a confusing team, but there’s no doubt the star power of Shuler makes them a tough beat. On Feb. 6, Shuler beat Auburn on a stunning buzzer-beating jumper to cap off a 26-point night.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1358200593463070720?s=20

It’s a performance like this that Kentucky must avoid if they want to capture victory in Oxford.

Catch the action, tipping off at 9 p.m. Tuesday night on ESPN.

About Will Levenson

Will Levenson is a Journalism and Sports Media major at UF. He produces daily shows for WRUF, including "Sport Scene with Steve Russell," "Harp on Sports," and "The Tailgate." In addition, Will provides weekly sports updates for WUFT News and radio Sportscenters for WRUF radio. Will has been a writer at ESPN Gainesville since September 2019.

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