The Kentucky Wildcats welcome the Lafayette Leopards into Rupp Arena tonight in their first ever meeting. This is one of three more additional games that are part of the Barclays Classic tournament that are played on the college campuses, similar to the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip Off tournament Kentucky played last year.
Let's have a look at the basic information about Lafayette College:
|Colors||Maroon and White|
|Affi liation||NCAA Division I|
|Athletic Conference||Patriot League|
|Home Arena||Kirby Sports Center (3,500)|
|Director of Athletics||Bruce McCutcheon|
|Assoc. A.D.||George Bright|
|Assoc. A.D. for Compliance/SWA||Kaitlyn McKittrick|
|Head Coach||Fran O’Hanlon (Villanova ’70)|
|Record at Lafayette||240-261, 18th season|
|Record last year overall'||13-18|
|Record last year conference||7-7|
|Common opponents last year||Vanderbilt, Penn St.|
Now that we know a little bit about Leopards, let's take a look at their basketball team. On the young season, the Leopards are 1-1, having lost their first game against the St. Francis (NY) Terriers 65-76 and won their second against the Long Island U. Blackbirds, 98-94. The Leopards have 8 returning lettermen from 2011-12, including two returning starters. Most figure Lafayette to be a little bit worse this year than last, and they are picked fourth in the Patriot League in the preseason poll
Names to Know
Forward Seth Hinrichs (6'7"/214#) and and center Dan Trist (6'9"/230#), both sophomores and both returning starters, lead the way in scoring with 16.5 and 23 points per game respectively. Seniors Levi Giese (6'9"/207#), a forward, is the team's leading rebounder at 5 RPG to go along with 3 blocks, and point guard Tony Johnson (6'0"/175#) is the leading assist man with 5.5 APG and the third leading scorer with 16.5 PPG.
Sophomore forward Alan Flannigan (6'6"/218) is the reserve having the most impact, as he is getting 3.5 rebounds/game and adding 2 points per game. Zach Rufer (G, 6'1"/177 fr.), Bryce Scott (G, 6'2"/179# fr.), and Les Smith (G, 6'0"/190#) round out the main reserves for the Leopards.
Johnson and Hinrichs are the main 3-point shooting threats, and both shoot a high percentage (over 60%), but they don't take all that many 3-point shots. It is a part of their offense, but they don't typically live or die by that shot.
How they play
The Leopards are mostly a man-to-man team, although Kentucky will probably see a lot of zone from them due to the size and athleticism disadvantage. Lafayette is not a slow down team, they play at a pace similar to Kentucky and will gladly get into and up and down contest if invited. Fully half their games last year were played at 67 or more possessions, so this team isn't going to be taking the air out of the ball.
The biggest problem the Leopards had last year, and will likely have this year, is offensive rebounding. They have been a little better so far this year than last, but it was their Achilles' heel last season, and I would expect the Wildcats to dominate the offensive glass in this game.
Leaving the Leopards open from three is also a bad idea, because they will shoot them and can make them, although as I said previously, they are not like a lot of smaller teams that live or die by that shot. Lafayette likes to get the ball into the post to their big people and make plays at the rim.
Lafayette is a tough-minded team that doesn't fear the big boys, even though they don't really have the athletes to compete at Kentucky's level. In their last game, the Leopards pulled an upset of Long Island in overtime, which is a much better team than Lafayette, and in that game, Lafayette had an effective FG% of 59.4 and an offensive efficiency of 122, which is quite good.
But the Wildcats are far too talented, athletic, and long for the Leopards. Kentucky should and will dominate the glass at both ends, even though offensive rebounding has been a problem for the Wildcats so far this year. Lafayette simply doesn't rebound the ball very well at all, and if Kentucky can't outrebound these guys, they are in for big trouble this year.
Lafayette has no answer, size wise, for Archie Goodwin or Alex Poythress, not to mention Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. The Wildcats will undoubtedly work on the pick and roll offense tonight and try to get a lot of lobs to the rim, as well as a lot of post-up offense for the three big guys. Kyle Wiltjer is another huge mismatch for the Leopards, as he is bigger than anyone on their team. I have no idea who they are going to put on him, but he's going to be a real challenge for them to guard.
I expect Calipari to work on some strategies to get Wiltjer more open looks. I'd look for a few pick and pops and a lot of high screens. Calipari rarely uses staggered screens, but you may even see some of those tonight in an effort to get Wiltjer more shots.
Kentucky should easily win this game by 30+ points, and hopefully, Jon Hood can get some work in tonight. Kentucky is going to need him this year.