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Although favored to win the Southeastern Conference, Calipari, Cats know task won’t be easy

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky is used to being the favorite in the Southeastern Conference and this season will be no different. The Wildcats were picked to finish first in the league by media members Wednesday.

Kentucky was selected ahead of Tennessee, Auburn, Mississippi State, Florida, LSU, Alabama, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Ole Miss.

Although picked eighth, Calipari said Vanderbilt could be an early dark-horse in the league based on what he’s heard from several outsiders.

“Somebody went up to watch Vanderbilt and one of the pro scouts hit back and just said, they’re good. They’re good. They’re better than we thought they would be. They’re good,” Calipari said. “You start talking Vanderbilt, we play them twice. You know Florida twice. You know Tennessee twice. You know — whoever the best teams are, we’re playing twice. Let me just put it that way.”

Kentucky sophomore PJ Washington was named second-team All-SEC by media members on Wednesday afternoon during SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Alabama. (Kentucky Today/Tammie Brown)

Calipari admitted he’s “happy for the league” but added it doesn’t make things any easier for his squad. A year ago, eight conference teams reached the NCAA Tournament, while Tennessee and Auburn tied for the regular-season title.

“It makes it tougher for us every game we play,” he said. “Every road game we play will be hard to win. Doesn’t matter how good you are. It’s going to be a ridiculously hard game. So last year, how many teams did we get in last year? And if you remember me talking about that for the five years, and now it becomes (harder). (We) keep getting teams in (the NCAA) and keep advancing those teams.”

The Wildcats were chosen as the team to beat in the league for the 14th time since the 1998-99 season. John Calipari has guided Kentucky to five regular-season titles, with those going in 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016-17. Under Calipari, the Wildcats have captured six SEC Tournament titles, including the past four titles.

Tennessee’s Grant Williams was tabbed as the league’s preseason Player of the Year, while Kentucky senior Reid Travis joined Williams and three others All-SEC team. Kentucky sophomore PJ Washington was a second-team selection.

Since arriving at Kentucky, Travis has dropped from 262 to 245 pounds.

“I worked really hard those two months to get where I was at,” he said. “I think the thing I learned through the process is it’s not so much the weight at the end of the day — it’s getting the body fat down and moving a lot better and moving a lot quicker. So, I feel like this week’s it’s starting to click a little more as far as feeling more comfortable on the court.”

Overall, Washington said the Wildcats “are more focused” than last season.

“You can tell these guys want it more,” he said. “Everybody is in the gym every night. We all want our craft to get better, which makes the team get better. We just want it more I would say.”

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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