Royce White's gigantic mitts and outstanding passing and ballhandling make him a unique challenge for the Wildcats.
The Kentucky Wildcats' second round opponent is the Iowa St. Cyclones, a Big 12 team that Kentucky has only played twice previously in history. Ironically, one of those times was 20 years ago in the 2nd round of the the 1992 NCAA Tournament. Two games later, the Wildcats would be fatally stuck by Christian Laettner's infamous dagger.
Tonight's opponent, Iowa St., is a worthy one, and their record includes victories over such worthies as Duke-killer Lehigh Mountain Hawks, the Texas Longhorns, the Kansas Jayhawks, the Baylor Bears, and the Kansas St. Wildcats (twice), not to mention their most recent conquest, the #9 seeded Connecticut Huskies. This is a team that has proven their NCAA Tournament chops against solid competition in a very, very tough league.
Kentucky's 33-2 record needs no exposition, and their ticket into this game was punched by handling the #16 seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Kentucky comes into this game as a significant favorite, around 11 points according to the betting houses. Ken Pomeroy's statistical formulas have the Wildcats a 12-point favorite.
Iowa St. Personnel
|Tyrus McGee||6th man||Jr.||G||33||20.0||2.4||5.6||43.2||1.5||3.8||40.3||1.6||1.9||83.9||1.2||2.2||3.4||0.7||0.5||0.5||0.2||1.5||7.9|
No injuries to report for either team.
Iowa St. Strengths vs. UK
- 3-point shooting. Iowa St. is a very deadly 3-point shooting team.
- 3-point defense. Iowa St. defends the 3 very well also, holding teams to around 30% - #16 in Division I.
- Defensive rebounding -- ISU is #13 in the nation in DR% despite being somewhat vertically challenged.
- Avoiding fouls. ISU is as good as Kentucky about not sending people to the line.
Iowa St. Weaknesses vs. UK
- 2-point percentage defense. ISU is particularly weak in this stat, allowing almost 51% from 2-point range among conference foes.
- Free throw shooting. ISU shoots only 69% from the line.
Kentucky Strengths vs. Iowa St.
- Offense. Kentucky is a much better offensive team, averaging over 1.2 points/possession against conference foes, whereas ISU managed only 1.07.
- Defense. UK is at 0.93 points/pos, ISU 0.99.
- 2-point defense. Kentucky is the #1 team in the country in this stat, and ISU #238.
- Blocks. Are you kidding?
- Venue. Louisville is 90 miles from Lexington, much farther from Ames.
Kentucky Weaknesses vs. Iowa St.
- None, really, that stand out. ISU is a great 3-point defensive team, but UK is a good 3-point shooting team. Ditto the reverse. Of all the major stats, 3-point offense and defense are ISU's most significant statistical advantage.
Key Matchups for Kentucky:
- Royce White. The guy has hands like a freaking cave troll. He could palm a Swiss workout ball, and he's 6'8" and 240# of the best college ballhandler since Rajon Rondo, and an outstanding passer. He is unique, and I expect UK to have to guard him by committee.
- Scott Christopherson. He does not present a matchup problem for Kentucky except in one significant way -- if UK loses track of him, he will make threes against them. They guy is deadly.
Key Matchups for Iowa St.
- Anthony Davis. ISU is smallish, and how they defend Davis is anybody's guess.
- Doron Lamb or Marquis Teague. Christopherson does not match up well against either one of those guys, and God knows, Darius Miller is a matchup nightmare for everyone when he's in at the two.
I cannot overstate my respect for this team. They play in a better basketball league than UK does, and even though they have lost a lot more games, they are battle-tested and know how to win. Kentucky cannot underestimate this team, because they are extremely dangerous and a threat to upset the Wildcats.
Iowa St. has a young coach and a team with a lot of unique skills, but some glaring deficiencies. Despite their great offensive ability, they really don't score points that well, and they are not a good defensive team inside the arc. Royce White is "the guy" for them, and if he gets in foul trouble somehow, Kentucky will have an almost insurmountable advantage. But with White in the game, he presents real problems, since you cannot cheat on ISU's shooters.
The Cyclones are not really a team you can press, although I expect UK to give that a shot a time or two in order to raise the tempo a bit. Kentucky in the tournament will look to run against smaller teams, the biggest reason being that you simply cannot know your opponent in the NCAA Tournament like you do in league. UK is more athletic top to bottom than ISU, and the Cyclones will not want to get into an up-and-down game with UK -- they are not much deeper than the Wildcats are.
The Cyclones are similar in many ways to Vanderbilt, except not as big and athletic. UK absolutely, positively must locate and stay home on the Cyclone's 3-point shooters. I cannot emphasize enough how important that is. Alternatively, when the Wildcats are on offense, they must get the ball inside the paint where they have a huge advantage with Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis.
The X-factor for UK in this game is Kyle Wiltjer. He is much to big for their back-court to guard on the perimeter, and if he can make some threes, it could be the difference.