Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats welcome their in-state brethren, the Morehead St. Eagles, to Rupp Arena for some basketball excitement. Morehead St. is now coached by former Unforgettable Sean Woods, a Rick Pitino player and coaching disciple, and Woods has brought his pressure defense and wide-open offense to Morehead.
Now that we have a few games under our belt, we can start off looking at the Four Factors to Winning. I note that Kentucky has played a significantly more difficult schedule:
As you can see by this, the Wildcats enjoy advantages in most areas with the notable exception of offensive rebounds, which has been an issue all along with this Kentucky team this year. That has to improve, but we'll get more into that later. First, lets' have a look at the rank and records of the two teams, again courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||MSU||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#316||#67|
|RPI Top 50||0-0||0-1|
For those of you interested in the spread for this game, it fluctuates between -23 and -24 for Kentucky.
Meet the Eagles:
|* = Starter|
|+ = Major Reserve|
Style of Play
Morehead St. under Sean Woods is a pressing team that likes to play a relatively fast, high-possession game. They are averaging 76 possessions per game against Kentucky's 64, so they want to force the pace and keep the tempo high.
As we discussed earlier, the Eagles are going to press Kentucky with zone presses, primarily the 1-2-1-1 and 2-2-1, which UK will have to beat to get into their offense. Once there, the Eagles are primarily a man team, but you should expect to see quite a bit of zone, because although Morehead St. isn't small, Kentucky is much bigger and longer.
Offensively, the Eagles haven't shot a particularly high percentage of their shots from three so far, but I expect that to change significantly against Kentucky, and the Wildcats must guard the perimeter well, because Morehead can make the 3-point shot.
The key to this game for the Eagles is easy points off forced turnovers. Right now, Morehead is 10th in the nation in Ken Pomeroy's rating for turover percent on defense, although they are a poor ballhandling team and give it away almost as often as they take it away. If that trend continues, Morehead could find themselves in trouble early.
Another place Kentucky can go wrong is if they let the Eagles punish them on the offensive glass. Morehead St. is a very mature team and is likely to be very solid fundamentally, and combined with the possibility of high turnovers, Kentucky getting beat on the offensive glass could make this game way tougher than it would otherwise be.
If the pressure gets to Kentucky, this game will be competitive into the second half. If not, Kentucky's superior size and skill will quickly put the Eagles into a hole. The outcome should not really be in doubt, but if UK struggles with the defensive pressure, the turnovers will mount and the game will be competitive for a long time.
As John Calipari has said, the Wildcats need a game against a team like this, and the reason, which he left unsaid, is that the 'Cats will be facing the same kind of pressure, only more intense, when they meet the Louisville Cardinals in December.
If Kentucky plays well and does not succumb to pressure too much, look for a 30 point win. If they struggle against the pressure, look for the Eagles to beat the spread, perhaps convincingly.