While the Kentucky Wildcats basketball season has been bumpy and a little underwhelming at times, the Cats are still 4-1 and ranked #8 in the nation. It has not been pretty, but it's important to remember that this is John Calipari's youngest team and there will be growing pains.
In the end, I think this team will be OK and will be a top-five caliber team in March. I was encouraged by the play against Kansas and the fact that this young team responded to the big game atmosphere, And like a lot of the Big Blue Nation, I have been dismayed and a little disappointed by the inconsistency and defensive lapses of this team.
It's going to be a bumpy ride this year but this should be one of the smooth parts. However, the pre-Thanksgiving Wednesday game has a history of being one of the ugliest efforts of the season.
The Fort Wayne Mastodons present a change to give the Wildcats a dominating win and send the Rupp Arena faithful (however few show up) a good feeling watching their team blow out an inferior opponent. The Oakland Golden Grizzlies (#45 RPI) are the best team that the Mastodons have faced and they were blown out 85-71.
That said, there are a few red flags that could raise some concern if the Wildcats overlook the Mastodons. This is a team that can score (114 points versus Defiance) and they can shoot from long range (17 three-pointers versus Delaware State). Regardless, this should be an easy Wildcat win.
Let's meet the Mastodons.
#01 - G BRYSON SCOTT - SR - 6'1 - 205
22 .0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.3 APG
#32 - G KASON HARRELL - JR - 6'2 - 192
12.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.8 APG
#55 - G JOHN KONCHAK - JR 6'5 207
11.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 3.5 APG
#05 - G JAX LEVITCH - SO 6'7 210
5.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.5 APG
#22 - F XZAVIER TAYLOR - SR 6'9 255
6.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.5 APG
#33 - G MATT WEIR - FR 6'1 175
6.8 PPG, 4.0 APG, 1.8 RPG
#11 - F DYLAN CARL - FR 6'11 205
6.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.5 APG
#21 - G JORDON KING - SR 6'4 210
5.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.3 APG
#31 F CAMERON BENFORD - FR 6'8, 225
2.5 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.5 APG
Bryson Scott is the motor that drives the Mastodons and he is a scoring threat from all over the court. Despite his scoring being up, his shooting percentage is down from last year. He hits 42.4% of his shots and just 29.2% of his three-pointers. He is averaging a career-best 4.3 assists a game and is pesky on defense averaging 2.5 steals.
After an off game against Oakland, Kason Harrell has averaged 16 points over his last three games and is a solid second scoring option. He hits 39.3% of his three-pointers and when hot, can take over the game. He went 6-11 from long range against Delaware State. John Konchar is a rebounding machine and has 28 boards in his last two games. He also averages 3.3 steals a game.
Jax Levitch, from Louisville, is listed as a guard and gives the Mastodons a four-guard lineup. Despite being 6'7, 13 of his 17 attempted shots have come from beyond the three-point line and he hits 46.2% of his treys. After a slow start, he has hit 5-11 three-pointers in his last two games. Xzavier Taylor hangs out in the paint on both ends of the court and has limited shot range. He hits 47.6% of his shots and is prone to foul trouble.
Freshman Matt Weir has played well off the bench, with a 2.0 A/TO ratio, He takes good care of the ball and hits 50% of his three-pointers and also averages a steal a game. Dylan Carl provides scoring and rebounding as well and is pretty solid defensively under the basket. He hits 57.9% of his shots but at 6'11 and just 205 pounds, he could get pushed around against Kentucky's physical players. Jordon King provides senior leadership and scoring off the bench and hits 38.%% of his three-pointers.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Believe it or not, when you look at the numbers, Kentucky’s basketball opponents have been better than you think. Jerry Palm gives Vermont a #6 RPI ranking and Utah Valley State a ranking of #40. The Wildcat’s sole loss to #15 RPI Kansas was by just four points. So by the early RPI, the Wildcats have an early RPI of #18, which is fair. I don’t think that UK is the #8 team in the country right now, but they will be a top-five team by March, which is all that matters.It’s important to note that today is the one year anniversary of Fort Wayne’s biggest win ever: a 71-68 overtime upset win over then #3 Indiana. Most of this team played in that game so this is not a team that will be scared of Kentucky. This is a team that has 45 made three-pointers in just four games and they attempt and they take close to 30 trey attempts a game. If they can knock down half of those or better, they will be tough to shake.
We have all seen the early season frustration that Calipari has with his team and this is nothing new. The Cats will be playing their 6th game in 12 nights so this is good that this game will be at 8PM rather than the usual 1PM Wednesday before Thanksgiving game time.
It's a big challenge for a team of mostly freshman to gel in just four games, but that is John Calipari's usual task. As we have seen in the past, this team starts to click more when the calendar hits December. This game may be ugly at times, but that is what you expect with so many games in 12 days and a young team. Expect Kentucky to be more focused and to put away the Mastodons when they have them down. This is not a Fort Wayne team that takes good care of the ball and the Wildcats will create points from turnovers.
Things start clicking for the Wildcats tonight. Let's call it 83-57.