In tonight's 7:00 EST second round NIT game versus the Missouri Valley Conference's Creighton Bluejays (27-7, 14-4), Kentucky fans will have the opportunity to see how well their Wildcats can focus on the task at hand. That task is made more difficult with the rumors swirling about UK head coach Billy Gillispie, and whether or not his days in Lexington are numbered.
Publicly at least, the players and coach are focusing their thoughts and efforts on defeating the Bluejays. But, one has to wonder if the intensity of the media and fan feeding frenzy is occupying an inordinate amount of their energy and focus. Which brings me back to my original thought: Will UK play with purpose and determination?
My guess is that the leadership of Patrick Patterson, and his absolute hatred of losing, will overcome any perceived obstacles the team is facing. The environment will not be unlike an SEC road game; a nearly full Qwest Center (Cap. 17,600), with Bluejay fans in full-throated, vocal support of their team. This Kentucky team (21-13, 9-9), though, is not a neophyte when it comes to playing on rowdy, hostile road-courts, and that experience may very well pay off this evening.
Omaha is anxiously awaiting the 'Cats, so let's look at what's in store:
Booker Woodfox: 6-1, 185 lb senior guard -- Woodfox averages 15.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He shoots 48.3% from the field, 47.6% from beyond the arc (88-185), and 87.3% from the free throw line. Woodfox is the MVC Player of the Year.
P'Allen Stinnett: 6-3, 180 lb sophomore guard -- He averages 12.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists (1.9 turnovers), and 1.5 steals per game. Stinnett makes 44.1% of his shots, 31.3% of his three-point attempts (41-131), and 75.6% of his free throws. Stinnett led the MVC with 68 steals.
Kenny Lawson, Jr.: 6-9, 245 lb sophomore center -- Lawson averages 8.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. He makes 53.1% of his shots, and 75.4% of his free throws.
Justin Carter: 6-4, 200 lb junior G/F -- Carter averages 8.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He's making 45.5% of his field goal attempts, 25.0% of his threes (12-48), and 68.6% of his free throws.
Cavel Witter: 6-0, 165 lb junior guard -- Witter averages 7.9 points, 2.3 assists, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game. He makes 33.9% of his shots from the field, 31.8% of his three-point attempts (34-107), and 85.4% of his free throws.
Kenton Walker: 6-9, 235 lb sophomore F/C -- Walker averages 5.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. He shoots 53.8% from the floor, and 72.2% from the free throw line.
Antoine Young: 6-0, 165 lb freshman guard -- He averages 5.1 points per game. Young is shooting 39.7% from the floor, 28.2% of his trey attempts (11-39), and 70.0% from the charity stripe.
Kaleb Korver: 6-5, 190 lb sophomore guard -- Korver averages 3.7 points, an 2.3 rebounds per game. He shoots 43.5% from the field, 45.3% from the three-point line (38-84), and 70.0% from the free throw line. Korver is the brother of former Creighton and current NBA player, Kyle Korver.
Casey Harriman: 6-5, 205 lb sophomore forward -- Harriman averages 3.7 points, and 2.7 rebounds per game. He shoots 39.8% from the field, 40.3% from behind the arc, and 64.5% from the charity stripe.
Josh Dotzler: 6-1, 175 lb senior guard -- Dotzler averages 3.1 points, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 rebounds per game. He makes 38.7% of his field goal attempts, 36.4% of his threes (8-22), and 60.5% of his free throws.
Creighton Team and Opponent Stats -- Overall
Points Per Game -- 73.6 65.5
Field Goal% -- 44.7 42.2
Free Throw% -- 75.3 68.8
3-Point% -- 37.9 34.5
Rebound Margin -- - 3.7
Off. Rebound Per Game - 9.6 11.8
Off. Rebound% -- 28.5 34.0
Def. Rebound% -- 66.0 71.5
Assists Per Game -- 14.1 12.1
Steals Per Game -- 8.2 5.9
Turnovers Per Game -- 12.2 16.1
Blocks Per Game -- 3.9 2.9
Creighton wins of note: 82-75 over New Mexico, 69-58 @ St. Josephs, 77-59 over Dayton, 83-75 @ DePaul, and 73-72 over Southern Illinois ... Creighton losses of note: 71-69 @ Arkansas, Little-Rock, 54-52 @ Nebraska, 69-66 versus Northern Iowa, 74-62 versus Drake, and 73-49 versus Illinois St. in the MVC Tournament ... Creighton is 16-2 at home (losses to N. Iowa and Drake) ... In Creighton's seven losses they average only 60.4 points per game ... They average 76.3 points at home ... The Bluejays have attempted 708 three-point shots (20.8 per game) ... They make an average of 7.9 threes per game ... RPI comparison -- UK 79, Creighton 40 ... Strength of Schedule comparison -- UK 64, Creighton 111 ... The Bluejays are 2-2 versus the RPI Top 50 (UK is 3-4) ... This is coach Dana Altman's 15th year at Creighton ... Chad Millard, a U of L transfer, averages 9.5 minutes per game ... Creighton is hosting an SEC school for the first time in forty years ... The Bluejays are two-point favorites.
Dana Altman's club likes to shoot the trey, but they don't rebound, or defend the paint with particular effectiveness. This leads me to believe that the focus of tonight's game should be getting the ball to Patrick Patterson, and defending the perimeter.
Sound like a familiar refrain? This does also: Surely Altman will double and triple-team Patterson in the paint; I don't foresee Kenny Lawson being left alone to guard UK's paint warrior. Lately, UK opponents have been allowing Patterson to receive the pass, but then forcing the big fella into a highly contested shot, or harassing him into an ineffective pass out of the block. That has hopefully been an area of concentration among the Kentucky coaching staff, because without an effective Patterson, UK"s chances diminish exponentially.
Assuming Creighton matches their season average of making eight threes per game, UK must then find a way to get Jodie Meeks some open looks. The UK star clearly hasn't been himself recently; since making 4-6 three-pointers at South Carolina of February 25, he has made only nine of 41 trey attempts (21.9%). Tonight would clearly be a great time for Darius Miller and Michael Porter to provide some perimeter scoring help.
Something to remember: Kentucky has won only one game this year when their opponents make more three-pointers than the boys in blue.
Locate the shooter! Gillispie should have painted that Basketball 101 creed inside the eyelids of his troops, because UK finding the Creighton shooter, of which there are plenty, will go a long way in determining tonight's winner. Dropping off the perimeter player to help in the paint is not an option in this game ... not if the 'Cats are to pull out a victory. Creighton's post-presence consists of Lawson, and 6-9 Kenton Walker; between them they average an underwhelming 13.4 points per game. If I'm Gillispie, I would be content to give up 20 points tonight to the two big men, in exchange for on-the-catch perimeter defense.
Altman consistently uses 10 players; the conditioning of the 'Cats will probably be an issue, and may require Gillispie to dip into his seldom-used bench.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats; survive and advance!