Before the Kentucky Wildcats took on the Tennessee Volunteers last Saturday, Coach John Calipari made headlines with the media by stating that winning the SEC title meant “nothing” to him. He explained that his focus is (and always has been) on getting the best seed possible for the NCAA Tournament.
I guess it didn’t mean too much to his team either, as Tennessee buried the Wildcats 74-65, leaving the door still slightly open for Vanderbilt to claim the SEC crown.
I should think that Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs will have the full attention of Coach Cal’s Cats, since a loss to the Dawgs on Wednesday could leave Kentucky with a somewhat uneasy feeling about their NCAA seed status.
The good news for Kentucky is that they have only lost twice this season, and the last time they lost (at South Carolina) the ‘Cats followed it up by whipping Vanderbilt 85-72. In fact, before losing to Tennessee last Saturday, Kentucky was riding an eight-game win streak. Maybe the occasional loss helps to wake this young team up?
Kentucky’s roster only features one player (sophomore Darius Miller) that is not currently projected to be a lottery pick in the 2010 and 2011 NBA Drafts. According NBA draft analysts, freshman phenoms John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins will go first and fourth, respectively, and senior forward Patrick Patterson will be taken with the tenth pick in the 2010 Draft. In the 2011 Draft, analysts project that fellow freshman Eric Bledsoe will be taken as the fifth pick overall.
I’m sorry, but how did these guys lose two games?
Kentucky leads the SEC in the following (numerous) categories – scoring margin (+10.1), field goal percentage defense (38.5%), 3-point percentage defense (27.1%), rebounding margin (+8.0), offensive rebounds (14.9/game), defensive rebounds (27.6/game) and last but not least, conference wins (12).
Kentucky is “scary good” on defense. The ‘Cats height (tallest roster in basketball) and superior athleticism enable them to pressure teams relentlessly. And even more importantly, they rebound the basketball well. Meaning, against Kentucky you get one shot and then you’re done on offense.
Calipari’s four future lottery picks are the ones that do most of the scoring on offense.
In the backcourt, Wall leads the way with 16.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists in conference games (a lot of people overlook his excellent passing game). Bledsoe gives the ‘Cats 10.8 points and 1.6 steal a night in SEC play.
The Kentucky frontcourt features the double-headed monster that is DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. Both of these players are big and physical when they get the ball down on the block.
In SEC games, Cousins is averaging 17.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and shooting 54% from the field. He is probably the front-runner for the SEC Player of the Year award (his main competition is his teammate John Wall). His partner down low, Patrick Patterson, is scoring 13.0 points, grabbing 6.8 boards and making 53.4% of his attempts from the floor (he’s also knocking down 40.8% of his three-point tries on the season).
Sophomores Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson, DeAndre Liggins and freshman Daniel Orton are Kentucky’s “role” players. Miller, Dodson and Liggins are all knocking down over 35% of their shots from beyond the arc this year. At 6’10” and 255 lbs, Orton serves as another big body that Calipari can run into the game to alter shots and grab rebounds.
In the first meeting between these two teams in Lexington, Georgia surprisingly went into the half with a 35-34 lead. However, the ‘Cats took control late in the game by feeding Cousins inside and riding his offense to the 76-68 victory (he finished with 16 points). It is truly amazing that UGA was able to be in this game at all considering that the Dawgs turned it over 26 times!
Keys to the Game
Make Them Shoot
Bruce Pearl used several kinds of zone defenses to force Kentucky to shoot more from the outside in the Vols victory over the ‘Cats last Saturday. In fact, many of Kentucky’s opponents these days seem to be showing them a lot of zone. Guess what? The ‘Cats are still shooting it.
Kentucky averages nearly 19 three-point attempts a game in SEC play, however, they only make 29.1% of them. Earlier this week, Coach Calipari had this to say about his team facing more zone:
“It’s funny, because everybody has the ‘This is how you play them.’ Yeah, you hold your nose and close your eyes and hope we can’t make any shots. Yeah, that’s a good way to play. If we make shots — if we go 5-for-22, which stinks — we win going away.”
Calipari comes off as just a tad bit arrogant here, don’t you think?
Against Tennessee though, Cal’s squad only made 2 of 22 three-point shots. In their past 4 games, Kentucky has made only 16 of 73 three-point attempts (22%).
The Dawgs will give themselves a much better chance at winning on Wednesday by taking Coach Pearl’s lead and showing Kentucky a lot of zone defense.
In the first game between these two teams, Georgia fouled Kentucky 25 times (Ajax, Barnes and Price all fouled out). The ‘Cats shot 33 free throws, making 22 of them (that’s 66.7%). On the season, Kentucky ranks 9th in the SEC in free throw percentage at 67.1%.
I would love to see Coach Fox employ the same strategy on Wednesday. Not only does fouling force a bad FT shooting team like Kentucky to earn points at the charity stripe, but it could also frustrate the hot-headed Cousins. DeMarcus is known for having quite the temper, and having Georgia’s bigs rough him up in the paint shouldn’t do much to keep him calm and under control.
If the Dawgs can successfully run a zone and foul a lot inside, then chances are the tempo of this game should be nice and slow…which is exactly what Georgia wants.
Georgia does not want to have this game turn into a track meet, or it would be to Kentucky’s advantage. The last thing Mark Fox (and the entire fan base at Stegeman Coliseum) wants to see is John Wall and Eric Bledsoe running up and down the court for easy dunks and lay-ups.
A large part of ensuring that this doesn’t happen will rely on the strength of Georgia’s guard play. The Dawgs’ guards must be able to handle the Kentucky pressure and get the ball up the court. Once the ball passes the half court line, hopefully Georgia will be able to milk at least 25 seconds off the shot clock before shooting.
Georgia has now won 4 straight games in Athens, and they are 12-3 at the Steg on the season.
This is the last home game of the season for UGA, and thus will be Senior Night for Ricky McPhee, Albert Jackson and Tyler Whatley.
I’m so happy that Ricky McPhee decided to transfer to Georgia, and I only wish that we could have seen him play for two more years.
Albert Jackson was an instrumental part of the Dawgs 2008 SEC Tournament Championship, starting every game and averaging 7.3 points and 6.5 rebounds during that long and glorious weekend.
The game tips off Wednesday night at 8:00PM EST, and will once again be shown on the Peachtree TV channel.
I’ll be heading up to the game with some friends after work…anyone else going?
Anybody think the Dawgs can win?