Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats will face the Connecticut Huskies in Madison Square Garden in the SEC-Big East Invitational.
Kentucky has only played UConn twice in its history, the first time being back in 2006 where the #2 ranked Huskies defeated Kentucky 87-83 in a closer than expected game.
This time, the Wildcats are ranked #4 in the land by the AP and the coaches, and UConn is ranked #14 and #12, respectively. Because of the proximity of Madison Square Garden to UConn, they will be the home team for this contest.
The Huskies are fairly young, but not nearly as young as the Wildcats. As far as experience goes, this UConn team is similar to the North Carolina Tar Heels. Also similar to the Tar Heels, this UConn team has plenty of size, and is also one of the few teams that can match up with the Wildcats on the front line. The interesting thing is, UConn can also match up with UK in the back court, size-wise.
The Huskies are 6-1 coming into this game, and Kentucky 8-0, but there is no doubt who has played the more difficult schedule of the two. Even with the addition of the UNC game, Kentucky has played far weaker opponents than UConn, who has played a good Hofstra team, LSU, and Duke. In fact, the Huskies lost to Duke by 9 in a game that saw them turn the ball over almost twice as many times as the Blue Devils, and get handled on the offensive glass to boot.
But UConn also thrashed LSU in a game in which their two starting guards looked like John Wall on the loose, making shots, dunks and layups from everywhere.
More after the jump.
Four Factors Analysis
As before, we will analyze what the results of this display means in detail. Please note that we won't be doing this for every single game this year, because creating all this is quite a bit of work. But particularly for the big games, you'll be getting this display and a detailed analysis of what it means.
First off, we notice that offensively, UConn is simply not as efficient as Kentucky. Much of that efficiency, though, can be attributed to the Wildcats' weak schedule, but even against the Tar Heels, you can see that UK's offensive efficiency is significantly higher than UConn's has been in their last three games.
Defensively, the teams are much closer, essentially mirror images of each other if you discount the first game or two of the season. If all is taken into consideration, UConn is somewhat better in DE, but I think that is mostly a result of their better defensive start and a tribute to the fact that they have a couple of seniors in the starting lineup.
Moving on to the Four Factors themselves, you will note that UK is more efficient offensively, a better offensive rebounding team and about the same when it comes to free-throw rate -- both teams get to the line a lot. UConn is noticeably better when it comes to taking care of the ball, and you can see by the green bar that UK has a long way to go to be top-ten caliber in that department.
Checking out the defense, both teams are decent at holding teams to low percentages with UConn being a bit better than the Cats. Kentucky forces more opponent turnovers and as previously noted, is a better rebounding team. UK does let teams get to the line more often than UConn.
Amazingly, Kentucky is a better three-point shooting team than UConn. The Wildcats figured to be average at best in that stat this year, but Darius Miller and Darnell Dodson, along with Patrick Patterson, have done a good job filling that void. UK also takes more 3-pointers than UConn does, and both teams play at track-meet tempo. No surprise there.
Next, we'll look at the players for the Huskies, and their stats:
Connecticut Huskies Basketball Roster
|Gavin Edwards||33||F||May start
|Charles Okwandu||35||C||May Start
Position Analysis: Point guard
The starting point guard for the Huskies is Kemba Walker. Walker was the #5 ranked point guard nationally in 2008 out of New York City, and was heavily recruited by almost everyone. Walker is excellent at getting to the rim as you saw if you watched any of the LSU v. UConn game. Walker simply blew by LSU defenders on the way to 20 points in a blowout win.
Like Larry Drew II of North Carolina, Kemba Walker is knock-down three-point shooter, making 55% of his attempts so far this season. Even though UConn does not shoot a ton of threes, when it is Walker doing the shooting, they normally go in.
The knock on Walker so far has been his inability to avoid turnovers. Even though he is averaging over five assists/game, he is also averaging three turnovers, which is short of the magic 2/1 number. Walker is also a good-but-not-great on-ball defender, and if John Wall is his assignment, that can't be good.
As far as wall is concerned, he is far superior to Walker (and anyone else, for that matter) in speed with the ball in his hands. Walker, like Drew, will struggle to stay in front of John Wall, although Walker is more athletic than Drew. You can be assured that Jim Calhoun will do whatever he can to minimize the chances of Wall's one-man fast breaks.
Position Analysis: Shooting guard
Jerome Dyson is the starting shooting guard for the Huskies, and he is a good one. Dyson has good size at 6'4", and has all the experience that being a senior at UConn brings, which includes trips to the Final Four.
Dyson is a nice compliment to Walker in that Dyson is not a true off-guard, but more of a combo guard, and that shows up in his 5 assists/game statistics. Dyson is a very aggressive defender and like Walker, works hard to get to the rim. He has not shot the ball particularly well from the perimeter this year, but he is capable of doing so.
This will be a tough matchup for Eric Bledsoe, as Dyson is explosive off the bounce and has a slight size advantage. Bledsoe plays bigger than he is, which will help, but Dyson will be by far the biggest challenged he has faced, offensively and defensively, this year
Position Analysis: Small Forward
Stanley Robinson is UConn's starter at the small forward spot and the team's leading scorer along with Kemba Walker. Robinson is a senior who, like Dyson, has been there and done that when it comes to big games.
Robinson can do it all -- slash, shoot the three, hit the mid-range shot. Robinson pefers to operate inside and use his almost-power-forward body to post up his foes or muscle them for the put-back. Robinson is a tough, savvy defender and is capable of scoring a lot of points in short order.
Unlike versus Will Graves, Darius Miller will not have a quickness or size advantage on Stanley Robinson. Robinson is an older, wiser, and frankly better version of Miller right now. This matchup will be a huge challenge for Darius Miller on both sides of the ball.
Position analysis: Power Forward
Alex Oriakhi is UConn's starter at the power forward spot. Oriakhi is a freshman from New Hampshire and was ranked as the 21st best power forward in the land by Rivals.com.
Oriakhi is not a big scorer. He is mostly in the game for defense and rebounding, although he is a strong finisher around the rim when he gets the ball in the post. Oriakhi leads UConn in rebounding with 9 per game, and he is also an outstanding post defender.
If Oriakhi winds up going against Patrick Patterson, as I would expect, this is the biggest mismatch problem for UConn. Patterson is much too quick, to strong and too agile for Oriakhi, as well as being far more experienced. Oriakhi does not have either the footspeed nor quickness to stay with Patterson on the break, or if Patrick decides to do his scoring from outside. Inside or out, Oriakhi will have his hands full.
Position Analysis: Center
I expect Charles Okwandu to start at center tonight to counter the strength and size of the Wildcats. Okwandu is a junior and has had plenty of experience in Jim Calhoun's system. Okwandu is from Lagos, Nigeria, and although he is very tall and big at 7' and 255#, he is not a particularly good rebounder.
Okwandu is a junior college transfer from Harcum College in Pennsylvania, and is the least highly regarded of all the UConn starters. He is a big body who can take up space, but he isn't much of an offensive threat.
The other possibility is that Gavin Edwards will start. Edwards is a senior from Arizona, and has good size and who would probably play the power forward spot, moving Oriakhi to the center position. Edwards is a skilled post defender and a genuine offensive threat inside. He does not shoot the ball from the perimeter, but is a good leaper and good finisher at the rim. Edwards leads the team in blocked shots at over 3 per game.
No matter who starts, neither of the guys who are likely to wind up in the post are good enough to contain DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is much to quick and athletic for Okwandu, and is just a better player than Orikahi. But a lot depends on whether or not Bad Cuz shows up.
Connecticut has a deep, talented bench much like Kentucky, but unlike the Tar Heels, they are much smaller. UConn has plenty of good guards like Donell Beverly and Darius Smith who can come in and spell Walker and Dyson, as well as swing players in Alex Hornat and Jamaal Trice, but nothing special.
Once again, this is going to be a very fast game, and turnovers loom large again. UConn is not as talented as Kentucky, and their depth is probably no better. The big punch from UConn comes from their guards, who are talented scorers and adept ballhandlers. They have more than enough athleticism to get to the rim on UK, and they shoot very good free throws.
Although UConn plays at a very high tempo, thier big people do not run the floor as well as Kentucky's. This will force Calhoun to be very careful with defensive balance and may force the guards to say away from the glass. Kentucky is the better rebounding team, but sending his guards in to help could be catastrophic with Wall on the floor. Calhoun will also have to very carefully manage the minutes of his big men, as they are not quite as deep across the front line as the Wildcats are.
For Kentucky, guarding the three will be critical in this game. UConn is not a big 3-point shooting team, but that is mostly because they are too big and athletic for most of their opponents. Faced with a team like the Wildcats who are as big and even deeper across the front line, they may well shoot more from the perimeter, and that has been a big weakness of the Wildcats.
Once again, this game is likely to turn on offensive rebounds and turnovers. If UConn can get ten more shots than Kentucky, I expect that they will win this game. Otherwise, I expect Kentucky will.
Projected score: Kentucky 80, UConn 75.