Congratulations are in store for the Northern Kentucky Norse basketball program as they have done an amazing job of making the NCAA Tournament in just their first eligible season. So it was no shock to anyone that the NCAA Selection Committee seeded them against the in-state Kentucky Wildcats.
This is the classic "David vs Goliath" #2 vs #15 matchup as the Norse have an RPI ranking of #87 per Jerry Palm. This is by far, the biggest opponent for the Norse and they did not fare well against their only other Top 50 opponent as they lost to #24 West Virginia 92-61. The Norse are just 1-3 against Top 100 teams with their best win over #71 Valparaiso. In addition, they are 6-3 against teams that are 100-200 and they have four losses against teams that are rated below 200, including an 8 point loss to #261 Austin Peay.
This is not the first time the two teams have met on the court. Kentucky scheduled the Norse for an exhibition game in 2013, and the Wildcats won 93-63. It's for real this time. Let's meet the Norse.
#30 G - LAVONE HOLLAND II (JR 6'1, 185) 14.3 PPG, 4.1 APG, 2.8 RPG
#25 G - COLE MURRAY (SR 6'7, 210) 10.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.1 APG)
#1 F - JORDAN GARNETT (JR 6'5, 220) 4.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.5 APG
#23 F - CARSON WILLIAMS (FR 6'5, 230) 10.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.2 APG
#34 F - DREW McDONALD (SO 6'7, 250) 16.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.7 APG
LaVone Holland hits 37.4% of his three-pointers, but he can score from all over the court and hits 43.9% overall. He averages 1.3 steals a game but still turns the ball over a bit too much, with 3.0 a game. Cole Murray is the sharpshooter on this team and connects on 40.6% of his three-pointers. He is a bit one-dimensional as 91% of his shot attempts come from beyond the three-point line. He also has one of the oddest stats in the tournament. He has played 2,584 minutes in his career and has attempted just 52 free throws.
Jordan Garnett is a pretty good ball handler who has stepped up his scoring a bit. He has averaged 6.2 points over the last five games, and he hits 42.5% of his three-pointers and 48.7% overall. Freshman Carson Williams is a decent rebounder and likes to battle for the loose balls. He shoots well (59.7%) but has limited range. Drew McDonald is also a solid rebounder that can score both inside and outside. He hits 42.5% of his three-pointers and 48.7% overall. He has had some big games with games of 23, 26, and 27 in his top five.
#11 G - MASON FAULKNER (FR 6'1, 165) 7.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.1 APG
#32 G - DANTEZ WALTON (FR 6'5, 265) 4.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.4 APG
#4 F - JEFF GARRETT (SO 6'6, 220) 3.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0,5 APG
#13 F - BRENNAN GILLIS (SO 6.7, 215) 3.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.6 APG
Mason Faulkner can add some scoring off the bench, but he is streaky and inconsistent. In his last five games, he has scored 2, 10, 10, 0, and 13 points. He hits just 24.2% of his three-pointers and 40.4% overall. Two-thirds of Danetz Walton's shots are three-point attempts, and he hits 30.3% of them and 39% overall. He is an underrated rebounder and has 6 rebounds in two of his last three games.
Jeff Garrett only averaged about 13.5 minutes a game and is a decent rebounder. He hits 40.5% of his shots. Brennan Gillis shoots 53.2% of his shots and is a pretty good three-point shooter, although he has just taken 19 treys all year.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Props to the Norse for making it this far, but there are heavily outmanned at every position in tonight's game. Thanks to the draw that Kentucky got, this will probably be the only game in the tournament that Wildcat fans will be able to relax a little bit.
Probably the most suspense in this game for Kentucky fans will be whether Wenyen Gabriel can get untracked again so expect to see a lot of minutes from him. This is a good opponent for him as this is a very small team and the entire Kentucky frontcourt should dominate.
This is a decent shooting NKU team as they hit 45.9% overall and 35.3% on their three-pointers. Same goes for their defense, allowing opposing teams to hit 44% and 32.8%. Kentucky's numbers are still better all around at a much higher level of competition.
Expect the Norse to show some fight early and to hang with the Wildcats for the opening 10:00 or so. Then Kentucky will gradually pull away and be able to rest most of their starters. It will be a closer score than expected as Calipari has no interest in beating the Norse by 40 points. Let's call it 85-63 for Kentucky.