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NCAA Basketball Kentucky Wildcats

SEC Basketball: Kentucky Wildcats Preview, 2014 NCAA Tournament Chances

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats gained their biggest win of their non-conference schedule in their final non-conference game against the No. 6 Louisville Cardinals and may have saved their season. The preseason No. 1 overall team already dropped three games to the Baylor Bears, North Carolina Tar Heels and Michigan State Spartans before coming into conference play, but now should easily make the 2014 NCAA Tournament even without winning the SEC.

The Wildcats start their SEC schedule against the 10-3 Mississippi State Bulldogs, who, despite being extremely talented, shouldn’t stand a chance. A big early win will give this young Kentucky squad a lot of confidence moving forward, which they will need with a difficult conference slate ahead.

Despite being a favorite along with the Florida Gators to win the SEC, Kentucky will have a target on their backs, as about eight teams have an opportunity to make the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and defeating the Wildcats would be a marquee win. The Tennessee Volunteers, Missouri Tigers, Ole Miss Rebels, Alabama Crimson Tide, Arkansas Razorbacks and LSU Tigers are all capable of upsetting the Wildcats.

However, Kentucky wasn’t ranked No. 1 overall in preseason based on favoritism. Julius Randle, James Young, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein are all going to get better as the season draws closer to the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Turnovers and missing free throws are what have cost the Wildcats games, but John Calipari will get those flaws worked out.

Don’t be surprised if the Wildcats lose one or two games early, but are rolling over SEC opponents by the end of conference play. Expect Kentucky to finish no worse than third in the SEC and slide into the 2014 NCAA Tournament with ease.

Taylor Sturm is an SEC Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TSturmRS, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google