Portland Pilots at Kentucky Wildcats: Game preview

Coach Cal will be on the case of the Wildcats tomorrow. - USA TODAY Sports Images

The Portland Pilots take on the Kentucky Wildcats tomorrow in Rupp Arena. Let's take a look at the Pilots, and any threat they might pose to the Wildcats.

For the third year running, the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Portland Pilots out of the West Coast Conference, for the second straight time in Rupp Arena. Here are how both teams stand, courtesy of StatSheet.com:

Rank and Records PORT UK
RPI #263 #91
Strength of Schedule #177 #49
Overall 3-5 5-3
Conference 0-0 0-0
Home 3-1 4-1
Away 0-4 0-1
Top 25 0-2 0-2
RPI Top 50 0-2 0-3

Portland has really struggled at home and away so far this year. The Pilots have only really been upset once, by Montana St., but they have lost to every team ranked ahead of them so far this season, their most recent loss being to the UNLV Runnin' Rebels in Las Vegas, although the Pilots acquitted themselves pretty well in that game and beat the spread.

Personnel

Portland is led in scoring and rebounding by junior forward Ryan Nicholas (6'7", 235#) at 13.6 PPG and 10.1 RPG. Nicholas is a good inside scorer and excellent rebounder, one of the best in the nation in defensive rebound percentage. He is a serviceable 3-pt shooter as well, shooting around 30%. Sophomore center Thomas van der Mars (6'11", 225#) is his front-court mate, averaging 7 points/game and 4.4 rebounds. 6'5" 190# Kevin Bailey is the small forward, averaging 10 points and 2 rebounds, as well as blocking 5.8% of shots.

In the back court, the point guard is 6'3" 170# sophomore David Carr (4.6 points/2.6 assists), and 6'3" 170# junior Korey Thieleke (6.8 points/3 rebounds) rounding out the starting lineup.

Junior guard Tanner Riley (6'3", 200#) is the first player off the bench. Riley chips in 6.1 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. Also seeing significant minutes are sophomore point guard Derrick Rodgers (6'1", 200#) at 4.6 points and 2.4 assists, and sophomore center Riley Barker (6'10", 225#) who chips in 3.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

As you can see, the Pilots are a very young group with only one upperclassman in their starting five.

Style

Portland, if you'll recall, is anything but a slow-it-down team. They very much like an up-tempo style and play every bit as fast as Kentucky. They also like to run their offense and get most of their shots inside the paint, rather than jack up a bunch of threes. As you can see from their personnel above, they have some size and like to take advantage of it.

Defensively, the Pilots play a mix of zone and man-to-man, and they will pressure the ball out of the man defense and shift into a zone in mid-possession. Eric Reveno, coach of Portland, mostly utilizes a 2-3 zone, and against Kentucky, that would figure to be his best bet tomorrow.

Portland is a decent defensive club, holding opponents to just over 46% eFG, but they are definitely scoring-challenged.

Four Factors:

No real surprises here. Kentucky basically wins all of the four factors by reasonable margins, but the shooting disparity is where they will do the most damage. Portland is fully capable of handling Kentucky on the offensive glass if the Wildcats do not come prepared, and Portland does get to the line quite a bit, although not as much as UK, and they shoot a similarly lousy percentage from the charity stripe.

Game analysis

Portland is a young, inexperienced team that does have some length, enough so that when Kentucky comes inside, they cannot do so with impunity and must come correctly. Portland doesn't shoot the ball very well at all from any spot on the floor, and tries to beat you with a tough mix of defenses and some defensive pressure.

The Pilots are another team that Kentucky should never have a problem with at home, currently ranked #225 by Ken Pomeroy's site. They are better than Samford, but not a lot better. With that said, Samford nearly matched Kentucky's second half point output, so the Wildcats are fully capable of surrendering on defense as they have a few times this year, and Portland could well get hot and take advantage of it.

Overall, this game should be over in the first half, but you can bet that John Calipari will be riding this team like Seabiscuit to ensure they keep the defensive intensity up. I wouldn't look for vast improvement in conditioning after just a couple of days of Camp Cal, but what we might see is some bonding and better team play.

Let's hope that happens.

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