Vermont Catamounts (0-0) at Kentucky Wildcats (1-0)
Star Time: 3:30 PM EST
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky
Odds: Kentucky opened as a 13.5-point favorite, but KenPom thought they would be be a 16-point favorite and gives the Cats a 93-percent chance of winning.
Predictions: ESPN’s Power Index gives the Cats an 82.5% percent chance to win. KenPom thinks Kentucky wins by an 82-66 margin.
Kentucky didn’t necessarily impress the eager Big Blue Nation when they sputtered out of the gate against Utah Valley on Friday night. Sure, they came back to win without ever feeling truly threatened, but they only beat a team with much less talent by 10 points.
There is a lot to work on for the young Wildcats, and not much time with the Cats facing two games in three days, beginning Sunday with the Catamounts.
Last season’s America East Conference Champion going undefeated in league play, the Catamounts return their top 4 scorers and project to be one of the most competitive mid-major teams in the country. Are the Cats on upset alert this weekend?
Sophomore Anthony Lamb, who led the team last season with 12.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season, is looking to push his team forward to 30 wins this season after ending up with 29 the year prior. The kid not only scores but scores efficiently, knocking down 51.2% of his shots last year and 41.3% from three.
A pair of seniors, Trae Bell-Haynes and Payton Henson, also return after both scoring more than 10 points per game. Vermont will need their big three scorers to put up large numbers against the Cats if they hope to leave Rupp with a win.
They are ranked 75 by the advanced metric statistician Ken Pomeroy (the Cats opened at 4), high for a team outside of the top-6 conferences. Defensively, the Catamounts held opposing teams to 62.1 ppg which was eleventh best in all of NCAA Division I. The Cats can utilize a drastic height advantage to help alleviate their earlier offensive struggles.
Vermont’s tallest player stands at 6’8”, so the front court of Richards, Washington and Gabriel should have the advantage in the post. If the bigs can do a better job of finishing second-chance opportunities after securing offensive rebounds, a shot they missed several of against the Wolverines, the backcourt will have less pressure on them to make shots. What the guards can control is their defensive intensity.
Against Utah Valley, Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each had four steals. Vermont won’t lose the ball so easily, but if their able to pressure the Catamounts up top with their length, the Cats can benefit their offense with fast break opportunities. Even if shots aren't falling, second-chance and fast-break buckets should favor Kentucky’s way.
Ultimately, Kentucky should play loose and relaxed. They played their first official game, got the jitters out, and should be good to go this Sunday. The game will likely stay close throughout, but the Cats have more talent across every position and should be able to ride their talent out for the win.
Look for Quade Green, who struggled in the Cats 73-63 victory against the Wolverines, to bounce back. Surprising many by coming off the bench, Green went 0-4 from the field before making four free throws in the final minutes of the game. He played very well in the exhibition games, especially from beyond the arc, and the Cats might need a solid game out him. If not now, then soon.