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Kentucky Basketball: Why Florida's Loss to Arkansas Is a Mixed Blessing for UK

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - FEBRUARY 5:  Head Coach Billy Donovan talks with Michael Frazier II #20 and Mike Rosario #3 of the Florida Gators during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena on February 5, 2013 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Gators 80-69.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIFebruary 5, 2013

If you're both a Kentucky fan and an avid standings-watcher, Tuesday night was a good night.

The Wildcats moved to 7-2 in SEC play with a 77-55 home win over hapless South Carolina while second-ranked Florida dropped its first conference game of the season at Arkansas.

As a result, tomorrow's newspaper should look something like:

Team Conf GB Overall
Florida 8-1 -- 18-3
Kentucky 7-2 1 16-6
Riffraff U Bl-ah Blah Bl-ah

Or at least I imagine that's how Kentucky fans look at standings. And devoid of context, I'll admit, it paints a pretty picture.

From the above table, you'd think the 'Cats were on the move, primed to strike, lurking in their preternaturally feline way around Florida's shuddering perimeter. With UK still slated to play the Gators twice this season, you might even convince yourself that Big Blue had 'em right where it wanted 'em.

You could reason—and you wouldn't be wrong—that Kentucky had entered that blessed sporting paradigm where it controlled it's own fate. And I could understand how that logic might have some appeal.

A less optimistic person, however, might argue that Florida's loss hurts the Wildcats more than it helps. That person would tell you that UK is 16-6 with an RPI of 48 and a remaining schedule as barren as the Salt Plains.

Except, of course, those two games against Florida (and to a lesser extent Missouri at home).

That person would tell you to forget the SEC title pipe dream and focus on what UK can offer the selection committee. A home date with Florida on Mar. 9 is the Wildcats' best chance to secure that elusive "marquee win." And the stronger Florida is entering that game, the more that win matters.

But if the Gators' loss at Arkansas is the prelude to one or two more SEC road losses, Florida looks like another flawed team in America's weakest Power Six conference. Kentucky can't afford that. This young team needs the wiggle room provided by that Mar. 9 engagement. In the event that the Wildcats lose two or three more conference games, they need to know they can save their season with one big win.

Big Blue nation has never been one for tempered expectations, but the season to date demands it. Kentucky has the talent to make some noise come March, much like the late-blooming 2011 Final Four team (who,coincidentally, also started 16-6).

But John Calipari's team has to get there first. And like it or not, Kentucky fans, Florida holds the keys.

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