Tonight is the big night for the first game of the NIT for UK in 30 years -- the Wildcats of Kentucky vs. the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV.
Both these teams have won national championships, and both find themselves missing the NCAA tournament this year. But they do find themselves opposing each other in the first round of the NIT. UNLV is 0-3 all time against Kentucky, the last meeting being in the 1985 NCAA tournament first round.
Now, let's take a look at this game.
Team Statistics (Courtesy of Kenpom.com)
|Adj. Efficiency:||106.3 ||91.0 ||105.4 ||93.0 ||101.1|
|Adj. Tempo:||68.2 ||66.6 ||66.5|
|Effective FG%:||53.2 ||44.6 ||49.2 ||48.1 ||49.1|
|Turnover %:||24.3 ||20.4 ||17.5 ||23.3 ||20.4|
|Off. Reb. %:||35.0 ||31.3 ||29.1 ||32.3 ||32.9|
|FTA/FGA:||40.8 ||33.5 ||38.3 ||34.4 ||36.5|
|3P%:||34.6 ||34.7 ||34.7 ||35.3 ||34.2|
|2P%:||53.8 ||40.8 ||47.5 ||45.8 ||47.9|
|FT%:||77.4 ||69.4 ||68.5 ||70.5 ||68.9|
|Block%:||9.9 ||17.5 ||8.2 ||10.8 ||8.8|
|Steal%:||11.1 ||9.6 ||7.9 ||10.8 ||9.9|
|3PA/FGA:||29.9 ||33.5 ||39.3 ||32.2 ||33.1|
|A/FGM:||60.1 ||43.5 ||58.2 ||55.8 ||54|
|Defensive Fingerprint:||Mostly Man||Mostly Man|
|Point Distribution (% of total points)|
|3-Pointers:||22.5 ||31.0 ||32.8 ||28.3 ||27.6|
|2-Pointers:||54.6 ||48.3 ||46.2 ||51.5 ||52|
|Free Throws:||22.9 ||20.7 ||21.0 ||20.1 ||20.4|
|Strength of Schedule|
|Components:||105.0 ||100.0 ||104.6 ||98.9 ||101.1|
|Overall:||0.6368 ||0.6543 ||0.5|
|Non-conference:||0.4733 ||0.5236 ||0.5|
|Bench Minutes:||29.0% ||25.8% ||30.70%|
|Experience:||1.38 yrs ||1.96 yrs ||1.66|
|Effective Height:||+1.6 ||-0.8 ||0|
|Average Height:||78.7" ||76.3" ||76.5"|
The star of the UNLV team is Wink Adams, both offensively and defensively. Controlling Adams is key for the University of Kentucky if they want to win this game. Adams is not a particularly good 3-point shooter, but by slashing to the basket and kicking out, he frees up the other players who are excellent from the arc, including Joe Darger, Oscar Bellfield, Tre'Von Willis and Kendall Wallace.
UNLV is a perimeter-oriented team, but Rice Massamba and Darris Santee add lenght and rebounding to the middle. They take very good care of the basketball, as you can see above, and rank in the top 40 in assist/turnover ratio. In their game against Louisville, UNLV used deadly three-point shooting and steady ballhandling to eke out a narrow, last-second victory over the Cardinals -- and that was with Wink Adams on the bench.
Where the Rebels should get into trouble with the Wildcats is on the glass. UNLV is a very poor rebounding team, and they really don't have any widebodies to wade in and get rebounds. Even Perry Stevenson should not get pushed around by the Rebels inside, and that will give UK an opportunity to shoot a very high percentage.
UNLV will run the high pick and roll, hoping to get a switch and a big-on-small mismatch, which the Rebels will exploit for guard penetration and kickouts to open three point shooters. Defensively, UNLV is primarily a man-to-man team that does a lot of switching on the perimeter, and will doubtless try to force the secondary ballhandlers of Kentucky to handle the ball more. UK fans know from experience that this can often be a recipe for disaster, with Kentucky turning the ball over.
It will be interesting to see if Kentucky's edge in offensive rebounding (which UK has done poorly lately) can overcome the likely difference in turnovers. Of course, it mostly depends on where the turnovers are, but Michael Porter can expect to get some significant pressure from the Rebel back court.
This is exactly the kind of team that has given Kentucky trouble all year long, a la South Carolina and Auburn. UNLV is also a significantly more mature team than Kentucky, and as we saw against LSU, maturity can be the difference between winning and losing.
On the other hand, Kentucky has more talent in two players than the Rebels do in their entire starting lineup. The question is, can Kentucky get enough out of their other guys to compete with the balanced play of UNLV? If not, this game could go badly for the 'Cats. If UNLV fails to handle Meeks and Patterson, the rest of the guys won't be needed so much, but lately, teams have been taking Patterson and Meeks away from the Wildcats and forced the rest of the team to beat them. That has not worked out well for Kentucky.
Kentucky will need all the help they can get from the home crowd, as this is one of those teams where the matchups do not favor the Wildcats. The good news is, the Rebels have never played Kentucky before, and even though the fundamentals of defending two great players are well known, it isn't like the Rebels have the benefit of a conference schedule including Kentucky to hone their skills in.
In the final analysis, Kentucky has the edge on paper, but if the 'Cats don't bring any more offense than they brought against the LSU Tigers, they are likely to lose. If UK can get out in transition and keep the Rebels on their heels, they should be able to win the game.