As they did in football, the Samford Bulldogs make the trip up from Birmingham, Alabama to challenge the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball tonight at Rupp Arena. In case you're wondering why we seem to play Samford so often, remember that their athletics director is former UK Director of Basketball Operations Martin Newton, son of former UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton.
Let's look at the tale of the tape between the two teams:
|Rank and Records||UK||SAM|
|Strength of Schedule||#26||#262|
|RPI Top 50||0-3||0-2|
Samford has played a fairly tough schedule including the likes of the Louisville Cardinals and the Memphis Tigers, both of whom victimized them. There lone successes on the hardwood so far have been versus Martin Methodist (NAIA I) and Georgia Southern.
|10||Connor Miller||6-3||170||G||Sophomore||Starter||6.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg|
|11||Raijon Kelly||6-4||175||G||Sophomore||Starter||13.4 ppg, 3.6 apg – major contributor, 3-pt 40%|
|14||Clide Geffrard Jr.||6-5||215||F||Freshman||Starter||8.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg – significant contributor, 11% OR%, 3-pt 46%|
|23||Jaylen Beckham||6-0||160||PG||Freshman||Starter||2.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg|
|32||Tim Williams||6-8||210||F||Freshman||Starter||15.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg – significant contributor, best rebounder|
|2||Brandon Hayman||6-3||190||G||Sophomore||Reserve||2.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg|
|5||Russell Wilson||5-11||170||PG||Freshman||Maj. Res.||3.1 ppg, 2.6 apg|
|24||Will Cook||6-4||185||G||Junior||Maj. Res.||1.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg|
|33||Levi Barnes||6-10||205||C||Junior||Reserve||1.7 ppg, 0.7 rpg|
|35||Tyler Hood||6-6||210||F||Sophomore||Maj. Res.||7.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg|
The Bulldogs are an exceptionally young group, although not quite as young as Kentucky. Not one senior graces the roster of Samford's team this year, and nine of the players are underclassmen, including all five starters. Of the returning players, Raijon Kelly and sixth man Tyler Hood were both all-Southern Conference freshmen performers.
The Bulldogs have two good 3-point shooters in Kelly and Geffrard, but as a team, they shoot it pretty poorly from the arc at 29%
How Samford Plays
Samford likes to play fast, although some of the teams they have played do not. Against Louisville, there were 68 possessions, so Samford is by no means a slow-down team.
Despite their youth and overall lack of size, the Bulldogs play a man-to-man defense rather than a zone as so many smaller schools tend to employ. I would not be surprised to see Samford try to zone Kentucky because of the success that defense has had against the Wildcats, but it's not their primary defensive philosophy.
Samford shoots the three at a modestly higher rate than most Division I schools at 30% of their field goal attempts, but they are by no means a bombs-away bunch that launches half their shots from beyond the arc.
When Samford played Louisville, they got crushed on the glass, but they shot a very reasonable 44% eFG%, so they can score, and this was back when the Cardinals had Gorgui Dieng patrolling the paint. So the Bulldogs are not quite as bad as they might appear on paper, and not so scoring-challenged as they may seem.
The Four Factors
It's not much of a surprise to see that UK has an advantage in virtually all areas so far this season. Notice, though, that Samford's numbers, while inferior to that of Kentucky, don't look as lopsided as they should. That has more to do with the poor play of the Wildcats so far than anything the Bulldogs have done to date.
This is one of those games that if Kentucky loses, it will not only make national news, but it will make the Gardner Webb loss of 2008 look like a minor upset. Suffice it to say that despite Kentucky's pedestrian play so far, they are favored 99.5% to win this game.
Even though an actual loss may be too unlikely to worry about, another bad game is certainly possible. Samford will try hard, and actually beat Memphis on the offensive glass in their own arena. This little team is scrappy and will play very hard, and is perfectly capable of making the Wildcats look pretty bad if the 'Cats take them lightly. No, an upset won't happen, but Samford could send us to bed tonight even more concerned than many of us already are. They are an effort bunch, and UK needs to play them honest.
Samford may try to pressure UK's guards in this game, and if so, it will be interesting to see how Ryan Harrow, in particular, handles it. Judging from Calipari's comments lately, he's still pretty down on Harrow, and I think that is intended to motivate the young guy to show him what he's made of. We saw a couple of good possessions out of Harrow in the Baylor game, and hopefully, we'll see genuine improvement tonight.
Alex Poythress is the guy that Samford truly has no answer for. Will we see the Poythress than can put up 20 and 8 like we saw against the Duke Blue Devils, or will he be in early foul trouble again a la Notre Dame?
Kentucky will no doubt try to assert themselves early, and if they do, they should be able to pull away quickly from Samford. The biggest thing for the Wildcats in this game is consistent effort, and if they give it, it will be a good sign. If we see Calipari going nuts and pulling people out after giving up offensive rebounds, well, you know the rest.
Here's hoping for some genuine movement in the right direction tonight. Go, 'Cats!