Today, the Kentucky Wildcats travel further than they've ever traveled for a Southeastern Conference regular-season game. This will be the first visit in history for the Kentucky basketball team to Texas A&M's campus. Kentucky is 2-2 all time against the Aggies.
It comes at an important time in Kentucky's SEC season. The Wildcats just won a big victory over Ole Miss on the road, and winning two on the road in the SEC would be a big boost to the Wildcat's chances to win the conference, even though it won't quite place Kentucky's destiny back into their own hands.
Because of the number of games that has passed between last game and this one, it is appropriate that we do another complete preview.
Team performance comparison (via Statsheet.com):
|Rank and Records||UK||TAMU|
|Strength of Schedule||#53||#73|
|RPI Top 50||1-4||2-1|
Texas A&M Personnel
Just as the previous game, Elston Turner is still the guy for the Aggies, although he has not repeated the 40 points he dropped on Kentucky back las month – in fact, in 2 of the 5 games he's played, he hasn't reached double-digits. That changed Wednesday at Mississippi St. where he had 27 big points in a game that broke a 4-game slide for the Aggies.
Kourtney Robinson is their rebounds leader, and against Kentucky he had a team-leading 9 boards, 3 of them offensive. Another player who had a big game against the Wildcats was Fabyon Harris. He hit several big 3-point shots down the stretch that broke the back of Kentucky in that last affair. Harris has continued to play well despite a couple of poor outings against Florida and Alabama.
Finally, there is Alex Caruso, who has done a terrific defensive job, rebounding well, and is 4th in steals percentage in the nation.
Four Factors Analysis
The four factors favor Kentucky in three of the four measures. Kentucky is shooting the ball significantly better now, although the Aggies are the better rebounding team and did a great job on the glass against the Wildcats last time out. Kentucky gets to the line more, and if they continue to get Archie Goodwin there and making some, the Wildcats advantage in this stat might actually matter.
On paper, Kentucky is a better offensive team, averaging well over 1 point per possession in the SEC. The Aggies have struggled since their big win in Rupp, and are averaging only 0.95 points per possession. Kentucky is a better shooting team from both 2 and 3 point range.
Texas A&M is the best offensive rebounding team in the conference at 40%, and if they put up those kind of rebounding numbers against the Wildcats today, it will be tough for Kentucky to win the game. Offensive rebounding is a significant contributor to their offensive efficiency, and it almost as big a factor as effective FG% for them. If UK keeps TAMU off the offensive glass, they very likely win.
Matchup-wise, Kentucky has the athleticism to guard Elston Turner in Archie Goodwin, who claims he is anxious to get another chance to guard him. Texas A&M matches up pretty well with Kentucky size-wise, and they are pretty athletic also, so when Julius Mays and Kyle Wiltjer are on the floor, the Aggies will have an advantage off the bounce. Naturally, nobody in the league has an answer for Nerlens Noel on defense, so the best hope for TAMU is to try to get him in foul trouble. With Willie Cauley-Stein likely to play very little if at all, losing Noel will still be a major problem for Kentucky.
There's no doubt that the Wildcats have played better, and this will be a good test to see if Alex Poythress has finally made the jump to the college level. Wiltjer has played well, and Calipari's tendency to run the offense through Wiltjer the last couple of games has yielded some solid play from the sophomore.
Kentucky will likely see zone mixed with man all day, something that they didn't really have to worry about against Ole Miss. It's been a couple of games since Kentucky has had to face the zone, so this will be a test of how much the Wildcats have improved their zone offense as well.
Overall, Kentucky is a small favorite, and deserves to be, but this game is between two teams that are very close overall. The Aggies picked up a couple of very bad losses to LSU and Georgia, and they are a very beatable team right now. If Kentucky hopes to challenge SEC leader Florida, this is a must-win game for them. If they can't beat Texas A&M in College Station, they will be unlikely to beat Florida in Gainesville.