Before you read this, read the post below if you haven't already. The football team just had a tremendous victory. Come back here when you are done celebrating the HUGE bowl win by the football 'Cats against a very good Clemson team. Read the write up here from the MCB site if you weren't fortunate enough to see the game.
Back now? Great.
The holidays are almost over. The Christmas presents have been opened, the factory shutdowns are coming to an end and we are back to thinking about Kentucky Wildcat basketball.
The 'Cats next victim is slated to be the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky University this Saturday at 12:00. As most of you know, this game was moved from today in order to allow UK to focus on the Music City Bowl, which has resulted in the first UK bowl victory in 22 years.
Eastern was the former coaching home of Travis Ford, they guy who just saw his UMass team go down to the 'Cats 86-68 on December 22nd. But Travis is gone and now Jeff Neubauer is the coach of the Colonels. Before coming to EKU, Neubauer was an assistant to John Beilein of West Virginia. Last year under Neubauer, EKU was 14-16 overall.
EKU by the numbers
This year, the Colonels return 4 of their 5 starters from last year; Michael Brock, Darnell Dialls, Julian Mascoll and Mike Rose. The other starter is Adam Leonard, a true freshman with the sixth man being Jamaal Douglas, a junior transfer from Lafayette College. Brock has apparently suffered an injury, as his minutes have come off the bench at significantly reduced production for the last 2 games. As a team, EKU has no starter over 6'8" and no true center. The Colonels have 9 players seeing significant minutes, although their primary rotation seems to be about 7 players deep.
The Colonel's leading scorer is Mike Rose at 15.8 ppg, and the leading rebounder is Michael Brock at 5.4 rpg. EKU plays a three-guard starting lineup with Leonard running the point most of the time and averaging 3 assists/game. Mascoll actually leads the team in assists from the forward spot at over 4/game.
Eastern does not play at a particularly fast pace, but is very efficient offensively. The Colonels average 59% from 2-point range and 37% from deep, making them one of the best shooting teams we have played. They do attempt a lot of three point shots, so it will be critical to Kentucky's chances to guard the line. Rose and Leonard are particularly deadly from 3, shooting it at a 43 and 40% accuracy, respectively. The Colonels feature 4 players averaging over 58% from the floor and taking over 3 shots/game. Compare that to Kentucky, who has only one player shooting that well with >= 3 shots - Randolph Morris.
Fortunately for Kentucky, EKU is good at neither defense nor ball handling. EKU turns the ball over more than UK does, one of the few opponents we have played who can claim that distinction. In defensive efficiency, Kentucky is ranked 18th, while Eastern is way down the list at 227th. Eastern also doesn't go to the line very often, and they don't shoot it very well from there (65%). The Colonels do get more steals than Kentucky, but not by much.
What it all means
Basically, Eastern does not have the size nor talent to defeat Kentucky on paper, so they must play the game and hope for the best. EKU's offensive efficiency will run into the immovable object of Kentucky's defense, and given the size, skill and athletic advantage enjoyed by UK, the outcome does not look favorable for the Colonels. Defensively, the Colonels must either limit Morris' minutes, or find a way to hold him in check. By looking at their personnel, one cannot figure a way for them to do either unless Morris helps them by making dumb fouls (certainly not the most remote possibility) or fails to take advantage of his advantages in size and skill.
The strategy for Kentucky will be basically the same as it has been all year -- get the ball to Morris first, play tough defense. For Eastern, they are going to have to limit Kentucky's possessions while shooting a high percentage. One way they could do that is forcing turnovers, and the other is to offensive rebound. They do have a higher OR percentage than UK, but only a little, and this playing much weaker competition. Our three point defense, currently 11th best in the land, must be on tomorrow - Eastern has some shooters we must locate and defend.
Eastern is a much weaker team than either UMass or Santa Clara, and Kentucky should have little trouble dispatching them at home unless the Colonels can get Morris in early foul trouble and make a very high percentage from everywhere. In my opinion, that only happens if the 'Cats have a big holiday hangover. For the sake of comparison, if we play like we did against Santa Clara, we win by 15-20. If we play like we did against UMass, the game is over in the first half. The Colonels a decent team, but they will need big time help to beat the Wildcats in Rupp Arena.