Team: Kentucky Wildcats
Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas, Texas
Coach: John Calipari
Number of returning starters: 2 (but only 1 of them still starts with their influx of top-notch freshmen)
Key losses: Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin (both to the NBA)
Key returnees: Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress
The third ranked Kentucky Wildcats will pay a visit to Texas this Friday night and we're going to have plenty of coverage from now until the end of the week.
I have spent some time watching Kentucky basketball this week in preparation for this game and while I definitely think the Bears will be outmatched, I would certainly be surprised to see a blowout from Kentucky. Much like the Bears, the Wildcats have been plagued by slow starts negated by furious finishes.
A few bullet observations:
- Julius Randle is a monster, but one who disappears when double teamed. This isn't always true, but he has difficulty making decisions when a guard steps down to help, and his ability to go over the top is taken away when a big man steps over to help. We are still dealing with a small sample size here, and he is bound for NBA stardom so it is only a matter of time until this issue is no longer true and we should hope it does not happen against us. He's averaging 18 and 12 so it is not exactly ideal for the competition if he figures that out before his rookie season in the NBA next year.
- Kentucky is 4th overall in rebounding. I shouldn't have to say much more than that to make you nervous. Though we are ranked 31st, that doesn't take into account that we have been much bigger than almost every one of our opponents so far and struggled for stretches at a time on the glass.
- They shoot free throws about as poorly as we do - although, our percentage still suffers greatly from the paltry 51% the Bears shot against South Carolina.
- Outside of their game against Michigan State, Kentucky hasn't played anyone noteworthy with the pseudo-exception of Providence who they handled rather easily this past Sunday. The Bears on the other hand, have had a grueling schedule (ranked anywhere from 1st to 5th) so tests are the norm for this team.
- The Wildcats have four different guys who can knock down the three. The twin freshmen starting guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison and fellow freshman starting small forward James Young. Also last year's starter and this year's sixth man Alex Poythress is good for one three pointer a night.
- Cory Jefferson matched up on Randle will be fun. I am really hoping that Jefferson can use his experience to frustrate Randle. Royce O'Neale is a fantastic answer for James Young while Kenny Chery should do well against Andrew Harrison.
- You are going to get confused because they are twins, but Aaron Harrison is the shooting guard and Andrew Harrison is the point guard - they are both future NBA players and do nothing to discredit the idea that Kentucky is manufacturing players for their program - I mean, twins? Come on. (Many of you will remember that Baylor was on the Texas products' lists for a long time but were always outside looking in.)
- Five. The number of starters for Kentucky that have spent time on draft boards. The only sophomore who is starting, Willie Cauley-Stein? Yeah he's Chad Ford's 25th best prospect in this next draft. Sheesh.
I have been working on doing a film study of Kentucky's game against Michigan State in November to show what works, does not work and what Baylor can do nothing about and should have that out for you tomorrow, then I will try to have a comprehensive personnel match-up preview on Friday heading into the game. I know that there are a few of you diehard basketball fans out there and I love it so let's discuss this a little more in the comments - What do you see in Kentucky? Strengths? Weaknesses? Have you watched them play? How do you think the flow of the game will go?
I'll add my thoughts below as well.