Preview: Kentucky vs. LIU Brooklyn

LIU might be 0-3, but things don’t get any easier for the Blackbirds on Friday night. Jack Perri takes his team to Rupp Arena to take on #8 Kentucky at 7 p.m. on ESPN3. Glenn Logan from A Sea of Blue helped me out with some insight into the Wildcats.

Rupp Arena

The calm before the storm.
Photo courtesy of @cbridge25.

Four Key Questions:

1) It’s must be crazy reloading every season. Who is Kentucky’s go-to guy right now? Do you think it will changes as the season goes on?

GL: Right now, the go-to guy would be Archie Goodwin. In any kind of man-to-man setup, he is simply unguardable. He gets to the rim and finishes with either hand, and he has shown a better-than-expected jumper both off the bounce and beyond the arc. When we need points, Archie is going to get the basketball.

I don’t expect it to change during this season, but it could. Alex Poythress is still trying to figure out college, but even as he does so, he is scoring points and looking dominant at times, so it could be him later. I don’t think so, though – Goodwin is too good.

2) I wrote something about transfers for Basketball Prospectus 2012-13 (John Calipari wrote the forward too!) and noted in it that I thought Julius Mays would fit right in with Kentucky. How has he played to start the season?

GL: Julius has played really well. He brings a calm maturity that the team desperately needs to have. He shoots the ball well from the perimeter, and although he isn’t really athletic enough to be considered a major factor, he still gets the job done in the small ways, like making good passes, taking care of the ball, and knocking down three point shots.

When Mays is in the game, it seems to help Goodwin slow down a little, which is where Archie has his main problem right now. He’s got what I call the “Young bull syndrome” – he wants to run down the hill and get one rather than walking down and getting them all.

3) What’s Kentucky’s biggest weakness as a team at the moment?

GL: I’ll answer that in two parts. Statistically, our biggest weakness is offensive rebounding. UK has been outrebounded on the offensive glass by almost every team they’ve played, and it has hurt Kentucky.

Fundamentally, Kentucky’s biggest weakness is toughness. This is not a tough team, they don’t like to be bodied up and they don’t know how to play physical “big boy” basketball. Coming straight from high level AAU programs where physical play is almost nonexistent because of the style, these guys do not understand how to play the way you have to play in college yet.

4) Since Kentucky has two big games after this against Notre Dame and Baylor, could the Wildcats be looking past LIU? Is there any hope for the Blackbirds? What’s your prediction about how this game goes?

GL: I don’t see how UK can look past LIU, because they almost got beaten Wednesday night on their home floor by much smaller Morehead St., a team with a brand-new head coach and a number of transfers.

Kentucky has to play every team like they did Maryland and Duke, as far as taking them seriously is concerned. These guys are nowhere near ready to play either Notre Dame or Baylor, and it wouldn’t shock me if UK dropped both those games. They have a long way to go, and their talent will only take them so far. How much Calipari can coach them up in the intervening days will determine how well things go as the schedule toughens up.

A big thanks to Glenn. If you want to read more about Kentucky, Sports Illustrated just did a feature on the Wildcats. There’s a different version in the magazine this week as well.

Three Key Statistics:

  • LIU’s Defensive Efficiency – This is a bit of a copout, because it is 1/2 of the entire game, but while LIU’s defense is of the utmost importance, it’s hard to drill down to just one piece. Pomeroy projects the Blackbirds will allow 1.27 points per possession to the Wildcats. That’s atrocious, but completely conceivable. Kentucky isn’t great at defense yet (it’s the toughness thing), but in order to win LIU would have to at least slow down the Wildcats.
  • LIU Free Throw Rate – A big key in almost every game the Blackbirds play is how often they can get to the line. One thing Kentucky has done well on defense this season is limit free throw opportunities. It’ll be even tougher to score if LIU can’t get to the line at its usual rate. Playing in the difficult home environment of Rupp Arena might make this a tall task to achieve.
  • Height – LIU’s average height this season? 74.8″ (342nd). Kentucky’s? 78.6″ (5th). Perri has a right to be concerned about his team’s size this season. The Wildcats’ small forward is the same height as LIU’s center. The Blackbirds will be giving up between two and nine inches of height at every position on the court. That could make playing offense real difficult.

Two Key Players:

  • Julian Boyd, F, LIU – Is he completely healthy? Can he find a way to score against Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein? This is an important game for Boyd and an opportunity to show a larger stage what he can do. He’s got a game that could frustrate the Kentucky big men.
  • Alex Poythress, F, Kentucky – He might be the most talented Wildcat. What’s his position? I don’t know, but I do know that he’s got freakish athleticism and has been a super efficient scorer through the first few games Kentucky has played.

One Pomeroy Prediction: 94-69 Kentucky, LIU with a 4% chance of victory.

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