Instead of doing our usual previews of UK and UofL’s opponent, we are going to switch things up a bit for the Dream Game. We are going to provide you with six things that Kentucky and Louisville have to do to win the game.
I’ll take a look at Kentucky and Miller will take care of the Cards. Here’s my attempt at acting like I have a clue about what I’m talking about.
1. Knock Down Shots From Deep – While this UK team might not be as talented as last year’s squad that saw five players drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, they are better in one area and that is perimeter shooting. On the season they have already knocked down 100 threes and are shooting 41-percent from deep (100-for-243). A season ago, they’re numbers weren’t as bad as many think, they did connect on 227 threes and shot 33-percent, but there is no denying that opposing defenses are much more aware of UK’s ability to knock down shots from deep.
Just once this season have the Wildcats knocked down less than six threes and that was their win over Washington in the Maui Classic that saw them shoot 3-for-17 from deep. They have made at least eight threes in eight of 12 games this season and in two of the four that they didn’t reach eight, they reached seven.
This team can shoot and their ability to shoot from deep often bails them out when their sets don’t allow them to get open looks at the rim. North Carolina completely stifled Kentucky’s halfcourt offense by denying them up top and preventing their guards from getting into a weave and initiating the dribble drive. Although the Wildcats eventually lost the game, it was the three-point shot that kept them in contention and gave them a chance to win late.
Doron Lamb is the best shooter of the bunch, but the Cats have five guys that have knocked down at least 10 threes on the year. Lamb and Brandon Knight lead the team with 27 threes each. Lamb is shooting an impressive 54-percent from deep and Knight is shooting 36-percent. If Lamb gets going from deep, much like he did against Winthrop, the Cats could be well on their way to victory.
2. Stay Out of Foul Trouble – This is where Louisville’s depth comes into play, much moreso than the Cards getting out and running with the Cats. Simply put, Rick Pitino plays more guys than John Calapari. The Cards have nine players averaging over 15 minutes to the Wildcats’ six. When Louisville brings guys off of the bench you see virtually zero dropoff in talent. This is a Louisville team that lacks a go-to guy, but everyone who plays contributes and they play very well together.
Two early fouls to Terrence Jennings does not mean much. But, two early ones to Terrence Jones could be vital. The dropoff from Jones to Eloy Vargas is much steeper than Jennings to Gorgui Dieng. In fact, with Dieng’s continuing improvement every game, the Cards might actually get better in the half court with Dieng on the block instead of Jennings. Also, you have to remember what happened in the Connecticut loss. Jones was forced to the bench with just over nine minutes to go in the first half. In those nine minutes of action, the Huskies seemingly did everything they wanted, going on a 21-2 run to end the half, and in doing so put the game away.
Also, guess who’s reffing the game on Friday. Mike Stuart. The same Mike Stuart who ejected John Calipari in the Mississippi Valley State Game. The same Mike Stuart that refereed UK’s loss to South Carolina last year. Let the paranoia begin.
3. Win the Battle of the Boards – How did Kentucky overcome their terrible shooting in the Washington game? They obliterated the Huskies on the glass. Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson combined for 31 rebounds as the Cats outrebounded the Huskies, 45-32. In Louisville’s lone loss to Drexel, much has been said about Bruiser Flint’s strategy to slow the game down with a mixture of defenses, which included a healthy helping of zone. But, what many overlook is the Dragons’ domination of the boards. They outrebounded the Cards, 45-25, and pulled down 13 offensive rebounds.
Despite Kentucky’s lack of size and depth underneath, rebounding has been an area where they have excelled. On the year they are averaging 41.2 rebounds, which ranks 19th in the land.
But, in both of their losses they lost the battle of the glass. Connecticut outrebounded the Cats, 29-28, and North Carolina outrebounded them, 40-32. In their two wins over probable NCAA tournament teams they controlled the glass. I already mentioned the Washington game above and against Notre Dame they outrebounded the Irish, 40-33.
4. Get Terrence Jones Going - Terrence Jones is UK’s most talented player. To win on Friday, they need to get the rookie going. He absolutely carried them in Maui with games of 29 points and 13 rebounds against Oklahoma, 16 and 17 against Washington, and 24 and 4 in the loss to UConn. He had good numbers against the Huskies but it was his absence late in the first half that did the Wildcats in. With him on the bench in foul trouble, Connecticut ended the half on a 21-2 run and put the game out of reach.
In Kentucky’s other loss, a 75-73 defeat at North Carolina, Jones suffered through his most difficult game as a collegiate. He struggled mightily with the Tar Heels’ bigs underneath, forcing off-balance shot after off-balance shot, en route to a 3-for-17 showing from the floor. He finished with just nine points, six rebounds, shot 0-for-7 in the second half, and spent much of the game visibly frustrated.
5. Defend the Post - Much has been said about UK’s lack of size and depth underneath. In their two losses, this weakness has been exploited mightily. Not only was North Carolina’s frontcourt of Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Justin Knox able to contain Jones’ offensive game, they completely handled Kentucky on the other end of the court, outscoring the Wildcats 34-14 in the paint. Zeller and Henson were especially effective as the two combined for 40 points and 23 rebounds.
In the UConn loss is was much of the same, as Alex Oriakhi and Niels Giffey combined for 32 points, 14 rebounds and shot 12-for-16 from the floor.
While Louisville’s bigs might not be the most talented group in the world, they do have three different guys in Terrence Jennings, Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng that they can throw at the Wildcats and conceivably cause them problems. Plus, it’s not like Zeller, Henson, Oriakhi and Giffey are all world-beaters. They are all just competent big men that were able to take advantage of Kentucky’s lack of depth and size underneath.
To win on Friday, the Wildcats can’t allow Louisville to do the same.
6. Slow the Cards Down a Little Bit – I do not think this is going to be as big an issue as many are proclaiming it to be. That is why I have it listed at No. 6 on a list of five things. Another reason I have a No. 6 in a list of five things is that I’m an idiot that drinks way too much.
My drinking aside, many have taken notice to Bruiser Flint’s defensive strategy in Louisville’s lone loss to Drexel (L, 52-46) and think the Cats should follow suit, which is why I felt it necessary to at least address it. In that game Louisville was held 38 points below their season average. That is a number that cannot be ignored, especially considering they are averaging 83.8 points-per-game, which ranks 7th in the country.
Like I mentioned above, the Dragons limited Louisville’s offensive opportunities by mixing in some zone, forcing the Cards to consistently burn 20-25 seconds off of the shot clock. Drexel denied the Cards of open looks from three, contested drive lanes, and did not allow the Cardinals to get off to the races. If Kentucky can do the same, it will ultimately give them a better chance at winning. But, I don’t believe it to be absolutely vital.
I have no reason to believe that Kentucky can’t play toe-to-toe with the Cards in the open court. Washington thrives at going up-and-down the floor at a blistering pace. The Cats handled them easily, despite shooting just 3-for-17 from deep and 39-percent from the floor.
In Louisville’s loss to Drexel there were also two major factors that contributed to their loss. They were killed on the glass and shot just 12-for-25 from the free throw line. This is why I have rebounding listed as No. 3 and slowing down Louisville at No. 6. If the game is fast-paced, Kentucky can win, but they must win the glass battle.
I think this is going to be a great game that will be played at a very entertaining pace. In the end I think quality will once again outplay quantity as Kentucky squeaks out a victory late.
Kentucky 82, Louisville 78