Ahead of the game, we gathered our staff to talk about the state of Kentucky Basketball, what to expect Saturday, and some score predictions. We also touched briefly on the Quade Green news.
You really have to wonder where the mindset of this team in light of the Quade Green transfer. It was that long ago when Green had a big second-half performance to help rally Kentucky past South Illinois. He then scored 17 points to help Kentucky hold on for a 10-point win over VMI.
But Green’s defensive liabilities, as well his recent turnover woes (15 in his last 5 games), led to his his role being diminished recently, paving the way for Immanuel Quickely and Ashton Hagans to take over. They’ve been erratic at times but are both better defenders than Green, and Quickley is quietly shooting 40-percent from three over his last five games, albeit on just 4/10 attempts.
And there’s no question Hagans is the team’s best defender right now. You just would have liked to keep Green around, if for no other reason than to help mentor those guys. Alas, Green is gone, and now Kentucky has to quickly move on as Utah comes to town.
The Utes have been surprisingly bad so far this season, so normally, this should be an easy win for Kentucky at home. The Utes have double-digit losses to Minnesota, Hawaii, Northwestern and are coming off a 15-point home loss to BYU. They also ranked 128th in KenPom.
However, the Wildcats’ struggles this season coming off a brutal loss to Seton Hall, along with Green leaving just days before this week’s game, has me thinking Kentucky may be a little disoriented Saturday.
In the end, Kentucky should pull away and win by double digits.
Prediction: Kentucky 79, Utah 68
John Morgan Francis
Dramatic is certainly a word to sum up the first part of the 2018-2019 Kentucky basketball season. Losing in humiliating fashion on opening night, missing out on significant recruits, a heart-breaking loss to Seton Hall and now Quade Green transferring out in the midst of such a season has thrown head coach John Calipari a sizable curveball.
With extended time between games over the last few weeks, the expectation is that Calipari’s troops will be more locked in for the 40-minute outing. However, living up to expectations hasn’t been Kentucky’s strong suit thus far.
While “freaking out” over a young Calipari team is irrational and usually proven wrong, a cautious approach in regards to trusting this particular team is advisable. The Wildcats are extremely young in the backcourt and are a handful of fouls away from having to play an inconsistent Nick Richards for significant minutes.
On Saturday, don’t expect to see fireworks that result in celebration. But you also shouldn’t be shocked if Kentucky adds one more to their win column.
Prediction: Kentucky 71, Utah 63
The season has not gone according to plan thus far. This year’s team showed out in the Bahamas but has been a complete disappointment since then. The Cats were boat-raced by Duke, hung some losses on some unworthy teams, and were upset last weekend by Seton Hall in Madison Square Garden.
Tyler Herro does not look like the player we expected to see after his performances during the team’s trip to the Bahamas earlier this year. Quade Green, who is now transferring, never took on the leadership role we all expected him to have, leaving the point guard duties in the hands of inexperienced freshmen in Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans. And PJ Washington seems content to try when it’s convenient for him. This team is not very good…not right now anyway.
Now, on to Utah this Saturday. By all accounts, this should be a 20-point Kentucky blow out, but I don’t see that happening. The Cats are home at Rupp and are better statistically in almost every category.
Look for Hagans to draw the Utes best scorer, Sedrick Barefield, and lock him down the same way he has the last two opposing guards. To be clear, the majority of Myles Powell’s scoring in Seton Hall’s victory last week came when Hagans was not guarding him, though he did make some ridiculous step-back threes on Hagans.
The Cats need Herro to get off to a quick start. He needs to see the ball go through the net and get that confidence back. Kentucky is much bigger on the interior, so we’ll see if Reid Travis and PJ Washington can out-rebound Jayce Johnson and Donnie Tillman.
Kentucky is the better team and I expect to see them show it on Saturday.
Prediction: Kentucky 78 Utah 66
Traditionally, writing up a prediction for a Kentucky matchup against a bottom-rung PAC-12 team like Utah could be fun and lighthearted. This season, however, it feels like nothing can be taken for granted. The Wildcats dropped what looked like a guaranteed win on Saturday in overtime against Seton Hall, and now it seems like almost everything we knew about this team is no longer true.
”The best shooting team I have ever had,” says Calipari.
Not so much.
“This group has talent and depth at every position,” said everyone three months ago.
It certainly does not seem that way.
Seton Hall is not a very good basketball team. Thankfully, Utah actually seems like a bad team. They sit at 4-4 coming off of a loss against BYU last Saturday.
The Utes do not score a lot of points, and their leading scorer Sedrick Barefield only averages 14 per game with just one other player averaging double figures (Donnie Tillman). They do not appear to be a good shooting team, with only two players, Riley Battin and Parker Van Dyke, showing the ability to make three-pointers.
At times, the Wildcats look like they are making progress. Most of the time, unfortunately, several of the guys have seemed disinterested. If they show up to Rupp Arena with any fire whatsoever, they should win this game.
Based on the last month, though, that’s a big “if.”
Prediction: Kentucky 85, Utah 70
After dropping ten spots in the AP Poll following a painful loss to Seton Hall, Kentucky will look to get back on track against Utah in Rupp Arena.
After seeing a lot of growth against UNCG, it was apparent there is still a lot of learning and growing pains to go. The fact of the matter is that you can’t allow a team’s best player to score 25 of his 28 points in the second half and overtime and expect to win.
You also can’t allow a team to score on their first four or five possessions after facing overtime and expect to win. The game was sloppy on both sides, but the Pirates made the plays they needed to sneak out of MSG with a win.
At 4-4, Utah is struggling and is looking for a win to get back on track. The problem for them, though, is the fact the Wildcats will be doing the same. With how college basketball and the SEC are this year, Kentucky will need every win they can get and every game will be important.
I see Kentucky setting the record straight before important games away from home against North Carolina and Louisville.
Prediction: Kentucky 78, Utah 65
Saturday, the Cats will be in action a week after their crushing overtime loss in The Garden and will be looking to get right back on track with a win.
So far, this season hasn’t gone as we had all planned after the showing we saw in the Bahamas. However, I don’t think it is time to panic over this group, because they are still very young, and despite the loss last week, they are getting noticeably better every time they take the floor.
So, stick with this group and enjoy the ride.
As for Saturday, the trend of the game getting gradually harder takes a bit of a backseat as a struggling Utah team comes to town before two big tests against North Carolina and Louisville. I still believe Kentucky was the better team last Saturday, and I believe they are the better team this Saturday and will leave Rupp with a win.
Prediction: Kentucky 85, Utah 78
The Cats will face another Power 5 opponent Saturday as they take on the Utah Utes. Utah isn’t very good, but Kentucky hasn’t fared too well this season either. UK has underachieved to say the least, but it’s early. The Cats have a lot of talent and a lot of time to pull it all together.
The Quade Green news obviously isn’t great, but he’s been impossible to keep on the floor this year. He turns the ball over way too much and he plays no defense. Ashton Hagan has taken the starting point guard job by the horns and Green is a 6-foot shooting guard that needs to be a point guard to have any future playing basketball. Quade might just need a fresh start. And UK will be just fine.
However, Kentucky really needs better play out of Tyler Herro and more consistency out of PJ Washington. It’s as simple as that. Reid Travis has been an anchor for this team and Keldon Johnson has been consistent. But the Cats need 4, 5, or even 6 guys contributing meaningful and consistent minutes. They just don’t have that right now. But I’m confident they will.
As far as Utah goes, they’re 4-4 and probably one of the worst Power 5 teams Kentucky will play this year. Their best players are Sedrick Barefield and Donnie Tillman. Barefield can put up some points as well as distribute and Tillman will be a force in the paint. The key will be slowing Barefield down and rebounding the basketball.
The Utes turn the ball over quite a bit and are limited offensively, especially from the outside. If the Cats play defense like they did in the second half of UNCG and the first half of Seton Hall, then they should be able to dominate. We just need to see a full 40 minutes from this team, and hopefully, some consistency.
Prediction: Kentucky 81 Utah 61