Nashville, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - The top team in the country finally gets its postseason underway, as the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats take on the eighth- seeded Florida Gators in quarterfinal action of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
The winner of this game will move into Saturday's semifinal round against LSU or Auburn.
It's hard to imagine any team in the conference unseating Kentucky, after John Calipari's Wildcats completed an undefeated regular season at 31-0, something no other team from a power conference has accomplished since Indiana during the 1975-76 season. Calipari was named the SEC Coach of the Year as a result. Kentucky has now won 46 SEC regular season titles and 27 SEC Tournament crowns, the last of which came in 2011.
Last year the Gators won regular-season and tournament titles. That dominance didn't carry over to this season, where Billy Donovan's crew fell one game under .500 (15-16), including an 8-10 conference record. The Gators were able to get back to .500 though, with Thursday's 69-61 win over Alabama in second- round action.
These two teams met in the regular-season finale, with Kentucky cruising to a 67-50 victory in Lexington. That completed the season sweep for the Wildcats, who earned a 68-61 victory in Gainesville in early February.
Florida's struggles this season have been offensive in nature. The team entered the postseason averaging a modest 64.0 ppg on .436 shooting. The defensive effort is what has fueled this team, with UF allowing just 59.9 ppg and .408 efficiency on the year. UF was paced by forward Dorian Finney-Smith (13.1 ppg) and guard Michael Frazier II (12.8 ppg). Junior guard Eli Carter was a distant third in scoring at 8.7 ppg, while sophomore guard Kasey Hill has shown promise as a facilitator (4.6 apg).
Finney-Smith had a huge game on Thursday, posting a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Gators to victory over Alabama. Carter and Devin Robinson chipped in with 11 and 10 points, respectively, for Florida, which shot .429 from the floor overall, while owning a 35-24 edge in rebounding over the Crimson Tide.
This season, it was crippling defensive play that fueled the perfect season for Kentucky. The Wildcats led the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.349) and scoring margin (+21.4), while ranking second in scoring defense (53.5 ppg) and blocked shots (207 - 6.9 per game).
Calipari wasn't the only Kentucky entity that was honored this season. The team's frontcourt tandem of junior Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman Karl- Anthony Towns took hoe prominent awards as well. Both were All-SEC First-Team selection, with Cauley-Stein picking up SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Towns being named SEC Freshman of the Year. Fellow freshman Devin Booker was named the SEC Sixth Man of the Year. Aaron Harrison (11.2 ppg) and Booker (10.9 ppg) are the top two scorers on the roster, but Towns (9.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 74 blocks) Cauley-Stein (8.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 49 blocks) dictate the flow of games.