NEW ORLEANS — Three years into coach John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are once again the unquestioned kings of the Southeastern Conference.
The No. 1-ranked Wildcats open the SEC Tournament in New Orleans with a swagger reminiscent of the 1990s, when they won seven of eight tournament championships. They were so dominant the event was jokingly referred to as the Kentucky Invitational.
“It’s another time to get a championship,” Kentucky guard Darius Miller said. “Hopefully we can continue the run that we’ve had and hopefully it can give us a little experience for the (NCAA) Tournament.”
There’s a good reason the Wildcats’ moxie has returned.
Kentucky boasts a roster of potential future NBA players and a 30-1 record that includes the first 16-0 SEC slate for any program since the Wildcats accomplished the feat in 2003.
They haven’t lost in nearly three months and have arguably the nation’s best player in freshman Anthony Davis, a 6-foot-10 forward who is averaging 14.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and is the nation’s leading shot-blocker with 4.7 per game.
So far, the rest of the SEC hasn’t had an answer.
There’s even a little awe.
“They just seem consumed about winning, and that is it,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Whatever they’ve got to do to win, regardless of who scores and who plays the minutes … They are going after something that’s bigger than their own individual statistics.”
Listening to the rest of the league, it’s easy to get the feeling that everyone else is playing for second place. Calipari doesn’t share that sentiment even though Kentucky is trying to win its third consecutive SEC Tournament.
“We’re talking about a bunch of teams that have a chance to win this thing,” Calipari said.
The top four seeds – Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida – all receive first-round byes in the 12-team tournament, which starts today.
Though the Wildcats supply the tournament’s star power, there is drama in the middle of the pack. Several teams need a strong showing to solidify their NCAA Tournament résumés.
Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Mississippi are all in various stages of uncertainty as the league hopes to place six teams in the tournament for the first time since 2008.
The Crimson Tide appear to have the best current case of the bubble teams, with a 20-10 record, 9-7 SEC mark and the nation’s No. 32 RPI, according to the NCAA’s latest report on Monday.