Ah, Jimmy Buffet, troubadour of South Florida and favorite artist of former UK (and now former coach of New Mexico State) head football coach has our song reference for this game:
Squalls out on the gulf stream
Big storm's comin' soon
I passed out in my hammock
And God I slept 'til way past noon
Stood up and tried to focus
I hoped I wouldn't have to look far
I knew I could use a Bloody Mary
So I stumbled next door to the bar
Takes me waaayyy back to when 'ol Jimmy, me, some friends of mine and the Coral Reefers all had a bit of a blast in the hotel after he played down at Western Kentucky. Those were the days.
But back to the present. A storm will be brewing over Rupp Arena tomorrow at 5:30 when "Da U" comes to town to take a crack at the nation's winningest program. It wasn't that long ago when Miami barely had what could be considered a basketball program, and they were just about as successful as new members of the ACC as Duke has been at football. But Frank Haith has gradually and steadily built this program into a solid ACC team and a worthy opponent for anyone, a team that is in fact ranked in the top 25 right now. So let's dive right in and take a look at Miami's personnel (all statistics courtesy of Statsheet.com):
Player statistics and evaluations:
|Miami (FL) Player Stats|
|Kentucky Player Stats|
I have highlighted the likely starters in yellow.
As you can see from the players, both teams match up pretty well size-wise. Kentucky is a bit longer than the Hurricanes, and Miami might be a touch quicker in the back court. Statistically, the biggest thing you will see is that Meeks and Patterson carry the bulk of the scoring load for UK, accounting for over half of Kentucky's average points/game. Miami's top two scorers account for only account for 35 percent of their scoring. Miami has better scoring balance.
The other thing I notice is although both teams get a roughly similar number of rebounds/game, Miami's are more concentrated and Kentucky's more spread out. That makes sense when you consider what a tall team UK normally puts on the floor.
The big guns for Miami are obviously Jack McClinton and Dwayne Collins. McClinton is a good three-point shooter and Collins does all his scoring around the basket, and is arguably the best low-post player we have faced so far this year. Lance Hurdle is also a good three-point shooter, and Cyrus McGowan and Eddie Rios add additional long-range accuracy.
It looks to me that the match ups in this game are very close to even in the starting lineup. Kentucky is a bit taller and longer and Miami is more experienced with better perimeter shooting. The two main match ups I will be watching are whoever is guarding Collins inside (probably Patterson, since Stevenson would seem to be too light) and whoever is guarding McClinton (My guess is Meeks).
From the Miami perspective, they must find a way to keep Meeks from going off on them, and that will be a challenge. There are almost no guards in NCAA basketball athletic enough to handle Meeks without help. Our first contest with a quality big man, Deon Thompson of UNC, resulted in a field day for Thompson. That can't happen again tonight if the Wildcats hope for victory.
|AP Rank||0||21||Chance for Kentucky|
|SOS Rank||13||4||Heh. Weak for UK|
|Wins & Losses|
|Blowout (> 19)||3-0||(100.0%)||2-0||(100.0%)|
|Close (< 6)||1-0||(100.0%)||0-1||(0.0%)||Kansas state game for UK|
|Pts Per Game||79.1||(46)||76||(79)||Amazing to find us this high, but it's early.|
|FG Pct||52.6||(4)||42.7||(207)||UK much better|
|FT Pct||76.3||(27)||70.9||(109)||UK slightly better|
|3pt FG Pct||35.1||(128)||34.5||(152)||Hard to believe, but UK very slightly better, mostly because of Meeks.
|Reb Per Game||41||(115)||48.2||(6)||This is a critical stat for UK|
|Off Rebs Per Game||9.7||(281)||15.8||(16)||If we allow them to rebound like this, I don't like our chances|
|Def Rebs Per Game||29||(11)||28.3||(19)||About even|
|Assists, Steals, & Blocks|
|Assists Per Game||16.9||(32)||12.5||(214)||UK edge|
|Steals Per Game||7.1||(155)||6||(239)||UK edge|
|Blocks Per Game||7||(7)||3.7||(129)||UK edge|
|Turnovers & Fouls|
|TO Per Game||22||(2)||13.2||(260)||No surprise. Miami big edge|
|Fouls Per Game||19.9||(118)||17.7||(241)||Close enough.|
Note: The items in parenthesis that are not percentages represent the national ranking of the team for that stat.
Overall, the team stats are very close. Miami has a big edge in offensive rebounds, total rebounds and turnovers. Kentucky has an edge in shooting, assists, and most measured defensive stats. The most important stat that Miami leads in are offensive rebounds. Miami is a good rebounding team, and UK has really struggled with that statistic all year. If UK allows Miami to dominate the glass, it will be a long night in Rupp Arena.
Miami has also played a tougher schedule to date than Kentucky has, and that is undoubtedly reflected in their stats. You can safely say that many of the UK edges that look big are really much smaller when quality of competition is factored in.
This looks like a great early-season match up for both teams. Back before the season, many of us had this and the North Carolina game circled as way points along the path of UK's basketball journey this year. This game will show just how far the Wildcats have come after being easily handled by the 'Heels. Win here, and the memory of the VMI defeat will become very remote and start to look like an aberration. Lose, and the nation as well as 'Cat fans will assume that the apparent progress of the last five games are more mirage than reality.
Miami is a tough, man-to-man defensive team very much in the mold of a West Virgina, except that they press less and have more experienced players. Frank Haith is an outstanding defensive coach, and he has taken Miami an incredible distance in a short time. Four years ago, this game would have been little more challenging than Lamar, but Haith has turned the Miami program into a competitive ACC squad that will almost certainly be playing in March.
Kentucky, on the other hand, is a team in flux. Earlier this week, we saw Kentucky play what was unquestionably their best game so far this year in every aspect against Lamar University. The loss of Harris will definitely be felt, but we do have capable, albeit young backups for that position. Darius Miller is a likely starter in the place of Harris, but we could also see Kevin Galloway see some time at that spot. One of the things Gillispie has done for this team is create a team that has a lot of 6'5"-6'7" athletes that can run the floor, handle and defend. That depth will be tested today.
Depth wise, Miami clearly has the deeper and more experienced team. Most of the players logging minutes for Miami are upperclassmen, and the same can definitely not be said for the Wildcats. Player for player the Wildcats may be more talented, but Miami is more experienced and that experience really matters at this level.
It will also be interesting to see if Kentucky can run the floor like they did against Lamar. That tactic led to a strong outburst of scoring by the 'Cats, and a lot of easy buckets. If we can do that against the likes of Miami, we should be able to do it against anyone.
In the end, I think this game will come down to how well Kentucky rebounds and takes care of the ball. Patrick Patterson, Perry Stevenson and Josh Harrellson will be critical to the former and DeAndre Liggins and Mike Porter the latter. If we limit turnovers to 18 or less and rebound well, UK should be able to win in Rupp Arena. Otherwise, Miami is fully capable of winning this game handily. This will be a great examination for both teams' progress, and should be one of the better college basketball games available today.