Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats head down the home stretch in their historic drive to an undefeated season. The first team in their path is the Hampton Pirates, who won the right to face Kentucky in the semi-home setting of the KFC YUM! Center in Louisville by beating the Manhattan Jaspers. We’ll see tonight if the Pirates perhaps can call on the spirits of Cardinals past to help them in their quest, which they will certainly need with their leading scorer on the bench and their leading rebounder hobbled by an ankle sprain suffered in the game against Manhattan. I should remind the Pirates, though, that the Louisville Cardinals have managed only one victory over Kentucky in three tries at the YUM! Center. Just for the record, they might not be the best help to enlist.
To win this game, the Wildcats must leverage their size inside, and I have no doubt they will try to do just that. I can’t help but imagine the Pirates will zone a lot and double-team the post because they are so vastly undersized. Defensively, I expect them to trap and attack Kentucky’s bigger guards. The Pirates don’t shoot a lot of threes, so if they bomb away from outside it will be a bit of a departure for them.
What Hampton does do well is attack the rim, and defend. Hampton is a respectable field goal percentage defense team, holding opponents to 46.4%. The problem is, they haven’t played any opponents remotely like Kentucky. The best win for the Pirates all season was the one on Tuesday against Manhattan. Kentucky would do well not to foul them, and for God’s sake keep their feet against an undersized mid-major and not go for fakes.
But you can’t take any team lightly. Hampton got here by being a tough, experienced team, and they are on the best run of the year. You cannot discount that, and Kentucky would be foolish not to treat this team as if they were the Duke Blue Devils rather than the Hampton Pirates. The best way to respect your opponent is to try to crush them. That way, they know you gave your best, which is all anyone ever wants.