The Keydets of Virginia Military Institute (VMI) march into Lexington on Friday for a tilt with the Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena at 7:00 PM. This represents the official launch of the 2008-09 season and the first game on the schedule that counts. Obviously, VMI is a relatively weaker team designed to help Kentucky round out their form before mixing it up with the big boys, but we have had bad experiences with so-called "easy" games before (the most famous of which will go unnamed and unmentioned here).
Here is a little background on VMI:
- Location: Lexington, Virginia
- Enrollment: 1400
- Mascot/Colors: Keydets/Red, Yellow and White
- All-time record: 754-1344 (36%)
- UK was the last Keydet NCAA tournament opponent in 1976-1977, a Kentucky victory
- Head coach: Duggar Baucom
- Conference Affiliation: Big South
- Returning 4 starters and 9 lettermen from last year's 5th place Big South team
A look at the Keydets
The VMI Keydets are one of the highest-scoring teams in college basketball, and averaged over 100 points per game in the 2006-07 season. Over the past two seasons, the Keydets have scored in triple digits on 25 separate occasions. The Keydets have lead the nation the last two years in 3-point shots made. Defensively, the Keydets have led the nation for the last two seasons.
The bottom line is, the Keydets play basketball at a relentless pace. To give you an idea of how relentless, their adjusted pace numbers from Kenpom.com for the 06-07 and 07-08 are 90.9 and 79.7 respectively. Compare that to Kentucky's numbers of 67.6 and 65.5. If UK continues to run the floor like they have for the two most recent exhibition games, this could turn into an amazing track meet where any score is possible.
A few more items of interest from the VMI Media Guide -- Record last year when:
- Leading at the half -- 10-3
- Opponent shoots less than 50% -- 11-3
- Scoring 90 or more -- 11-2
- Scoring less than 80 -- 0-6
- Scoring less than 90 -- 3-13
We are going to look at last years stat comparison. It isn't all that valid this year, particularly since Kentucky is such a different type of team. The Keydets, however, return mostly intact from last year, and I think the stats comparison from last year will illustrate a few things. Statistics courtesy of StatSheet.com:
|Kentucy Wildcats||VMI Keydets||Comments|
|RPI Rank||57||274||No comparison in comp last year.|
|Wins & Losses|
|Overall||18-13||(58.1%)||14-15||(48.3%)||None of this is particularly relevant this year.|
|Blowout (> 19)||5-1||(83.3%)||6-2||(75.0%)|
|Close (< 6)||6-4||(60.0%)||4-5||(44.4%)|
|Scoring||Nat. Rnk||Nat. Rnk|
|Points||2124||195||2649||28||VMI can really score.|
|Points Per Game||68.5||180||91.3||1||Yikes!|
|Shooting||Nat. Rnk||Nat. Rnk|
|FG Pct||46.9||40||44.5||142||These guys don't mind missing a lot.|
|FT Pct||73.3||51||69.2||163||Not as good as you would expect.|
|3pt FG Made||182||246||336||4||Wow. Now, UK has had trouble with mad bomber teams before this one. This will really tell if UK has improved their 3-pt. Defense|
|3pt FG Att||493||294||1045||1|
|3pt FG Pct||36.9||91||32.2||280|
|Rebounds||Nat. Rnk||Nat. Rnk|
|Rebounds||1107||248||1238||124||Lots of rebounds available for this team.|
|Reb Per Game||35.7||252||42.7||19||Really good offensive rebounding.|
|Off Rebs Per Game||9.7||281||14.9||11|
|Def Rebs Per Game||23.8||117||23.6||135|
|Assists, Steals, & Blocks||Nat. Rnk||Nat. Rnk|
|Assists||395||212||518||40||Good passing team, but lots of shots.|
|Assists Per Game||12.7||202||17.9||5|
|Steals||206||184||369||1||Best stealing team in the nation last year.|
|Steals Per Game||6.6||171||12.7||1|
|Blocks||149||47||77||260||Short guys can't block shots.|
|Blocks Per Game||4.8||35||2.7||227|
|Turnovers & Fouls||Nat. Rnk||Nat. Rnk|
|TO Per Game||15.8||72||16||65|
|Fouls||584||178||521||298||Wow. Lots and lots of fouls for both teams.|
|Fouls Per Game||18.8||149||18||206||Another hack-a-thon?|
The Keydets return four starters, but the one player who did leave is two-time Division I leading scorer Reggie Williams, who averaged 27.8 points/9.7 rebounds per game for the Keydets last year. I think that might ... matter a bit, don't you?
Anyway, here are the main guys expected to see time against the Wildcats.
|Player||YR||P||GP||GS||FG%||3FG%||FT%||Per Game Averages|
|C. Holmes||Jr||G||29||27||44.4||36||70.9||30.9||18.3||4.3||2.5||2.1||2.4||0.4||All-Big South|
|T. Holmes||Jr||G||29||15||41||27||77.3||27.5||15.6||5.9||2.8||2.7||2.2||0.6||Leading Rebounder|
|A. Lonon||So||G||28||27||51.1||18.2||64.9||22.8||4.2||1.4||3.5||2.5||2.1||0||Assist leader|
In addition, the Keydets return sophomore guard Austin Kenon, who averaged 12.3 points last year. All other returners averaged in single digits. The Keydets also have five new freshman players, some of whom had impressive high-school careers, including Michael Sparks from Lexington Tates Creek. An interesting side note is that Sparks surpassed Darrin Horn of South Carolina (nee Western Kentucky) as the leading scorer in Tates Creek history, so this kid is liable to be good.
The tallest player the Keydets have on the roster is 7'0"/245# center Stephen Sargent, who was red shirted last year. I don't know if he will be in the starting lineup for the UK game or not. The Keydets have a couple of other players who are in the 6'6-6'7 range, but generally they are a smaller team than Kentucky.
This team, in many ways, is the ideal warm-up for North Carolina -- very high possession team, constant pressure defense, very up-tempo. The Keydets are kind of like a North Carolina team on fast-forward, and their constant 3-point shooting will provide all kinds of opportunities for the Wildcats to prove how well they have mastered defending the 3-point shot.
Lest you think this is just a run-and-gun team, take note of their assists last year. VMI averaged almost 18 assists, and are a very unselfish team. What they are not is a particularly skilled team other than at shooting the 3, and they don't shoot a good percentage from there. For example, Liberty, who Kentucky beat convincingly, wiped out the Keydets 103-88. The Keydets later got revenge, but this team is not really as dangerous in reality as they appear on paper, although they are more athletic than you might think. VMI plays the kind of style that will provide an interesting test for the Wildcats and should provide an entertaining game for the fans. If Kentucky can hold them under 60 points, it will reflect very well on UK's defensive intensity.
VMI really tested Winthrop, which was a pretty good team last year, early in the season. So this style can produce some drama, even though Winthrop throttled them in the return engagement. The rebounding statistics look more impressive than they are, because VMI plays at such a high pace, there are more rebounds available.
In the final analysis, there is really no reason why Kentucky should not handle the Keydets easily. The 'Cats are much longer, more athletic and skilled. The Keydets will give us trouble with their three-point shooting and fast-paced style, and with Kentucky's deeper roster, there will be no more attempts to really slow down games other than to generally manage the pace to keep the defensive intensity high. The transition from a very deliberate style to a more up-tempo style looked easy against the much weaker Division II teams we faced, but the Keydets are used to playing nothing but this style and Kentucky must be mindful of the pace and stick to their knitting on defense.
There should be little the Keydets can do to stop Kentucky from scoring on offense other than using ball pressure to create turnovers. Alas, the 'Cats have proven susceptible to turnovers again early this year, and you can bet the Keydets will not be unaware of this tendency. Patterson, Stevenson, Harrellson and even Carter should be too much for the Keydets inside, and that figures to be where UK goes to get most of thier work done against VMI. There are also likely to be a high number of fouls called in this game as both teams tend to foul liberally.
In the end, this is a game which could be a blowout or one of those games where the Big Blue Faithful are wringing their hands, much like the OBU game. Hopefully, Billy Gillispie will have the Wildcats much more prepared for this one, and we'll see a return of the impressive play we saw against Missouri-St. Louis.