The Big Dance begins for the Kentucky Wildcats this Thursday when they face the upstart Stony Brook Seawolves.
Fresh off their SEC Championship crown and five-straight wins, the Cats were selected as the 4 seed in the East Region for this year's NCAA Tournament. Though the headline teams include North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana and Notre Dame, don't overlook what this Stony Brook team has done this season.
The Seawolves are making their first trip to the Big Dance after a historic run that saw the Sea Wolves record a 26-6 record and claim both the America East regular-season and tournament title. Prior to this season, Stony Brook lost in four of the previous five conference title games before knocking off Vermont, 80-74 this time around to earn the program's first NCAA berth.
Senior Jameel Warney led the way with a monster 43-point, 10-rebound performance and is easily the Seawolves' best player. He’s not only three-time America East Player of the Year, but also one of five national finalists for the Karl Malone Award as power forward of the year.
Warney has actually face former Cats before during his high school days. As a junior at Roselle (N.J.) Catholic, Warney had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a playoff game against St. Patrick’s, which featured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Dakari Johnson. The 6-8, 256-pound Warney also played high school ball with UK guard Isaiah Briscoe.
Warney and his Seawolves nearly pulled off a huge road win at Vanderbilt earlier this season before falling to the Dores in overtime. Against a frontline of NBA prospects in Luke Kornet and Damian Jones, Warney finished with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting with 10 boards and four blocks.
For the season, Warney has notched 19.8 points per game (37th nationally), 632 total points (27th), 10.7 rebounds (15th), 4.41 offensive rebounds (4th), 63.7 FG% (9th), 262 total FGs made (3th), 3.03 blocked shots per game (5th) and 20 double-doubles (8th).
Keeping Warney contained will be UK's biggest key to winning this matchup and advancing to the Round of 32. The Cats and the Seawolves will tip off 30 minutes after the conclusion of 5 seed Indiana and 12 seed Chattanooga, which starts at 7:10 PM ET.
Here is everything you'll need for Kentucky vs Stony Brook.
When: March 17, 2016
Location: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa
Game Time: 9:40 p.m. ET
Announcers: Jim Nantz (PxP), Bill Rafferty (Analyst), Grant Hill (Analyst) and Tracy Wolfson (Sideline).
Radio: UK Radio Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt (info and affiliates)
Odds: UK opened as a 14.5-point favorite, but is now only favored by 13.5, per Vegas Insider.
All-Time Series: UK leads 1-0
Last Meeting: UK won 62-52 (11/27/2007)
John Calipari’s Record vs. Stony Brook: First meeting
Steve Pikiell's Record vs. Kentucky: 0-1
Projected SB Starters
#10 G - Carson Puriefoy, 6-0, 175 lbs, Sr.
#5 G - Ahmad Walker, 6-4, 190 lbs, Jr.
#34 F Lucas Woodhouse, 6-3, 180 lbs, Jr.
#11 F - Rayshaun McGrew, 6-7, 230 lbs, Sr.
#20 F - Jameel Warney, 6-8, 260 lbs, Sr.
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs, So.
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs, Fr.
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs, Fr.
#35 F - Derek Willis, 6-9, 220 lbs, Jr.
#22 F - Alex Poythress, 6-8, 230 lbs, Sr.
Prediction: The first game of an NCAA Tournament is rarely easy, especially when you're a 4 seed. The 4/13 matchups are where a lot of upsets happen, and the Cats almost suffered one in 2011 to Princeton before Brandon Knight's buzzer-beater to save UK. That same tourney saw Louisville fall at the buzzer to 13-seeded Morehead State.
But this Kentucky team is far batter than its 4 seed suggests. These Cats are poised for a deep run and aren't going to bow out of this tournament in the first weekend. After all, Cal's Cats have made it to at least the Elite Eight in UK's seven NCAA appearances since 2010.
Still, the Seawolves are a quality team who will make the Cats sweat this one out, but the duo of Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray prove too much for Stony Brook to handle as UK comes away with a hard-fought opening-round win.
Final Score: Kentucky 75, Stony Brook 64