John Templon blogs over at Big Apple Buckets about New York basketball as well as doing some work for Basketball Prospectus. John was kind enough to do a Q&A with us about tonight's basketball game between the Long Island U. Blackbirds and Kentucky Wildcats.
You can peruse my answers to John's question here at Big Apple Buckets, along with some other interesting commentary on tonight's game.
So let's get to it, shall we?
A Sea of Blue: Looking at LIU's starting five, who is the one player that Kentucky isneeds to be particularly aware of on offense. On defense?
JT: The guy to be aware of on offense is Julian Boyd. He was the NEC's Player of the Year last season and in general is the backbone of everything LIU wants to do offensively. Even though he's a forward, he's willing to step out on offense. Boyd could be 100% healthy for the first time this season against the Wildcats. Also, Jamal Olasewere is another guy to be watching for.
On defense it is Olasewere's athleticism that sets him apart in the NEC and hopefully means he can hang with some of Kentucky's talented freshmen. He'll gamble a bit looking for steals and easy transition opportunities.
A Sea of Blue: Long Island figured to be a much better team than 0-3 this season, even though two of the three losses could have gone the other way. Is this just the bounce of the ball, or is the team not quite as ready as we may have counted on?
JT: A lot of it is just what unfortunately happens when you play close games, but Morehead St. and Lafayette are games that LIU should've won. Ultimately the Blackbirds will be a better team than either of them.
The coaching change from Jim Ferry to Jack Perri has led to a definite adjustment period. Injuries in the front court haven't helped Perri set his rotation either. Boyd has played, but a limited amount, and two key members if the forward rotation - Kenny Onyechi and Booker Hucks - have yet to make an appearance. The hope was Onyechi would be able to play against Kentucky, but it sounds like he'll be out at least another week.
Thus LIU has put freshmen in tough spots and worn down near the end of games.
A Sea of Blue: A lot of people may not know this, but LIU and Kentucky have played 3 times previous to this meeting, and the Wildcats are 2-1, with the loss coming in 1939, although the teams haven't met since 1947. How do you think LIU fans feel about renewing short series with the Wildcats this year? What do you think their consensus is of Kentucky's program?
JT: Anytime you get to measure yourself against the best program in the country it's a good thing. LIU has a veteran team that's been to two straight NCAA tournaments and has the core to go to a third this season. Fans are excited about it and programs like Maryland and Kentucky give them an early measuring stick.
I think people are excited to play these games, but the realistic expectations just a chance to keep the game close.
A Sea of Blue: How does Long Island like to play the game, and what can Kentucky fans expect to see, scheme wise, offensively and defensively?
JT: LIU likes to play fast. The Blackbirds like to run up and down the court led by point guard Jason Brickman. When in a half court set there are a lot of high screens so that Boyd and Olasewere have good lanes to the basket. The idea is that players like CJ Garner and Brandon Thompson will spread the court and give those two room to work.
Defensively, well LIU is very much a work in progress on that end of the court. They're not very tall, no NEC team besides Quinnipiac is, and Alex Len dominated them in the paint. Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel will have a chance to prove they can score inside.
Overall, LIU will probably give up three to five inches or so at every position. My hope is that experience and some timely shooting keep LIU in the game into the second half. That's the best-case scenario.
In addition to John's commentary and his excellent post, let's take a look at the Four Factors to Winning:
What do we see here that should give us concern? First, and most importantly, the Blackbirds do a better job on the offensive glass than Kentucky does. You will recall that Kentucky has struggled in this statistic, to their ultimate woe, so far this year. Allowing teams to dominate them on the glass has placed games that should be uncompetitive within the reach of opponents. LIU is not a great rebounding team, by any means, but they are better than the Wildcats have been.
The other area to be aware of is LIU's excellent ballhandling. So far this year, the Blackbirds have distinguished themselves in this characteristic, ninth best in the nation. That is generally emblematic of a team that does not beat themselves.
What LIU has not done well this year is stop opponents from scoring. They are allowing teams to shoot over 58% in effective field goal percentage, and allowing opponents to shoot 40% from three. Kentucky has had no problem doing either one.