Tonight, Kentucky takes on the Eagles of Morehead State, a Kentucky college. Like most Kentucky colleges, the Eagles have had some success in the basketball arena over the years, and last year made it to the NCAA tournament where they nearly knocked off the #1 seeded Louisville Cardinals. This is the season opener for the Wildcats, and as such is a very significant game.
Kentucky has had shocking failures early in the season in recent history. Last year, UK lost to Virginia Military Institute 111-103 in its season opener. The year before that, UK won the season opener only to lose its second game to Gardner-Webb (then affectionately known as "Gardener-Who?") 88-64 in a contest that wasn't even that close.
But Tubby Smith had a few tough years with early games, too. In 2001-02, Kentucky narrowly defeated exhibition opponent Athletes in Action, 88-83, in overtime, then went on to lose its season opener to Western Kentucky, 64-52. In 2000-01, Kentucky lost it's first two games of the season versus St. Johns and UCLA in the Coaches Vs. Cancer tournament.
As you can see, slow starts are not unknown to the Wildcats in the new millennium.
But tonight marks a new era in Kentucky basketball, and despite some trepidation about facing a team that made the NCAA tournament last year and who boasts one of the best rebounders in college basketball in Kenneth Faried, Kentucky comes into this game loaded with size, speed, talent, and an aggressive new offense and defense. This is Kentucky as it has not been since the late Pitino years.
A look at the Morehead State Eagles
Here is the roster for Morehead State:
|1||Maze Stallworth||F||215||Sr.||Elizabethtown, Ky.||John Hardin HS|| Role player last year, good ballhandler and 3pt. shooter (.380). 3rd leading scorer (12ppg)
|2||Jamel Marshall||F||225||Fr.||Orlando, Fla.||Olympia HS|
|3||Aaron Williams||G||175||R-Fr.||Lousiville, Ky.||Dupont Manual HS|
|5||Rashad Hosea||G||185||So.||Detroit, Mich.||Cody HS|| Not on roster last year.
|10||Corey Clemens||G||175||Fr.||New Castle, Ind.||New Castle Chrysler HS|
|11||Terrance Hill||G||170||So.||Columbus, Ga.||Jordan HS||Role player last year, not a 3pt. threat.
|13||Ty Proffitt||G||200||So.||London, Ky.||South Laurel HS||Transf. from Notre Dame. Saw limited action with Irish, may be a good 3 pt. shooter.
|15||Brandon Shingles||G||175||Sr.||Albany, Ga.||Westover HS||Transf. from Abraham Baldwin (Ga.) CC|
|22||Demonte Harper||G||185||Jr.||Nashville, Tenn.||Whites Creek HS||Significant contributor last year, average 3pt shooter, good rebounder.
|23||David Terrell||F||225||Jr.||Houston, Tex.||Worthing HS||Transf. from Midland CC|
|24||Steve Peterson||F||190||So.||Columbus, Ga.||Jordan HS|| Limited role player last year, not a scoring threat.
|25||John Lamb||G||180||Jr.||Indianola, Iowa||Indianola HS|| Limited role player last year.
|33||Jason Beharie||F||230||Fr.||London, England||Canarias Basketball Academy|
|34||Sam Goodman||G||185||Jr.||Lawrenceville, Ga.||Central Gwinnett HS||Transf. from Northwest Florida State CC|
|35||Kenneth Faried||F/C||225||Jr.||Newark, N.J.||Technology HS||Second best defensive rebounder in the country and 8th best offensive rebounder. 2nd leading scorer (13.8), good defender and shot blocker.
|45||Les Simmons||F/C||220||Sr.||Mountainville, N.Y.||Cornwall Central HS||Transf. from Cecil CC|
|Donnie Tyndall||Head Coach|
|Chris Moore||Assistant Coach|
|Joel Zimmerman||Assistant Men's Basketball Coach|
|Matt Grady||Assistant Men's Basketball Coach|
|Adam Howard||Director of Men's Basketball Operations|
- 2009-10 Overall Record: 20-16
- 2009-10 Conference Record/Finish: 12-6 (4th)
- Last Postseason Appearance/Record: 2009- NCAA Tournament/1-1
- Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 7/5
- Starters Returning/Lost: 4/1
- Newcomers: 6
The Golden Eagles have a large number of transfers this year, so there is very little known about them at this point. Ty Proffitt may tickle the memories of some, because the class of 2007 recruit out of London, KY was thought to be headed to Kentucky before he was injured, and wound up signing with Notre Dame. He was little used by Mike Brey, and now finds himself playing for Donnie Tyndall.
The Eagles get bigger this year with the addition of 6'9" Jason Beharie from The Canary Islands via England. Obviously, very little is known about this guy.
The Eagles last year were a scrappy, relatively efficient team that was solid defensively and very good on the boards due to the presence of Kenneth Faried. They are a smallish team, and had a tendency to turn the ball over a lot last year. The Eagles started very slowly last year, losing their first six straight games, including a 70-21 decision versus Grambling.
The Eagles are shorter, slower, less athletic and less skilled than Kentucky at every position. The only advantage they seem to have is experience and a solid Division I player in Faried.
Other than that, they have very little with which to challenge Kentucky except verve, grit, and the fact that UK is fielding a 100%, brand-new team under a new coach. That combination of negatives for UK should not be minimized, but it is very difficult to see how the Eagles overcome the overwhelming physical and skill advantages of the Wildcats.
The Eagles will try to control the pace of the game, and if they are able to do that, they may keep the Wildcats from running away and hiding. But my feeling is that they will not be able to slow down Kentucky enough to keep them from mounting a big advantage by late in the first half and cruising to victory.
Projected score: UK 86, Morehead State, 58.