Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press lays out three reasons why the Pirates can knock off the Wildcats, and he doesn’t think it’s a longshot.
He says UK has been on Seton Hall’s mind for a long time.
“We’ve been waiting for this since day one — as soon as we saw our schedule and saw Kentucky,” sophomore forward Sandro Mamukelashvili told Carino.
This isn’t anything new, though. For years, teams have considered Kentucky their Super Bowl. Even when it’s a down year for the Cats, you know every opponent is going to come in ready to try bring down the Goliath of college basketball.
And just like normal, people will say if the Pirates do everything right, they’ll have a chance. If everything falls into place, Hall just might pull off the upset.
But Carino says that shouldn’t be the case.
“The reality: Seton Hall matches up reasonably well with Kentucky. This is a live underdog, not a longshot.”
So, what are his three reasons for why he thinks Seton Hall can bring down the Cats?
First, and I’m sure Kentucky fans will love to see this, he says “Kentucky is overrated.” He isn’t impressed with Kentucky’s seven game winning streak, pointing out that the highest ranked opponent (according to KenPom) that the Wildcats have beaten was UNC-Greensboro at No. 71.
There was nothing to justify a preseason No. 2 ranking other than a roster with some holdovers from last year’s underachieving team and mostly unproven newcomers with the exception of Stanford transfer Reid Travis.
Well, those are some strong words, especially when comparing Kentucky to a team that has been largely irrelevant for the last 20+ years.
However, it is worth noting that Carino was one of the very few people in the preseason that did not believe Kentucky was a top-five team when everyone else was voting them No. 1 or 2. He actually voted Kentucky No. 8 in his preseason poll, which is actually pretty accurate, if not somewhat kind for what we’ve seen of this Kentucky team thus far, which is now No. 8 in the Coaches Poll and 9 in the AP Poll.
Next, Carino says Seton Hall is better at limiting its own and forcing opponent’s turnovers. He points out that the Cats commit 15 turnovers per game, which is more than they’ve forced, and that’s against “its underwhelming schedule.” On the other hand, the Pirates only commit 10 turnovers per game and have forced 41 more than they’ve committed.
He continues by stating that Kentucky is the favorite because they are stronger in other areas (duh), but Seton Hall simply takes care of the ball better than UK. In addition, he adds that point guard Quincy McKnight (21 assists, 8 turnovers) “has been more efficient than any of Kentucky’s point-guard-committee members.”
I’m not disagreeing that Kentucky turns the ball over a lot and they’ve had their fair share of point guard issues. But let’s get real. Kentucky IS better in basically every other category. They rebound, shoot, and score the ball better than Seton Hall.
And Seton Hall has a bit of a point guard controversy themselves. Sure, they take care of the ball better than Kentucky, but the 2.6 assists per game that McKnight is averaging isn’t blowing anyone away. And he’s splitting time with a true freshman, Anthony Nelson. Kentucky’s point guard situation hasn’t been superb, but Quade Green and Ashton Hagans are averaging 2.6 and 2.5 assists per game, respectively. And they’re doing so playing almost 7 minutes per game less than McKnight. So again, let’s get real.
Lastly, Carino makes a good point. He says Seton Hall has played well in the past at Madison Square Garden, where the game will take place Saturday. The Pirates are 8-3 at MSG over the past three seasons, with wins over ranked South Carolina and Texas Tech squads in each of the past two Decembers.
That’s impressive, but it’s almost like a home game for Hall. The university is only about an hour drive from the arena. It’d be the equivalent to UK playing an out-of-state opponent in Freedom Hall in Louisville.
However, the Cats have also had some good fortune in the Garden. Kentucky is 2-0 at the Garden during that same span, including a beating of the No. 13 Michigan State Spartans 69-48 in 2015.
It’s fair to say Seton Hall is one of the best teams Kentucky has played so far this season. I can agree with that. But I’d argue that the UNC-Greensboro squad that UK beat last weekend is just as good, if not better than the Pirates.
Seton Hall does match-up well at a couple positions. Myles Powell, who averages 22.4 points per game, will be hard for Keldon Johnson to contain. But he shoots a lot and he’s not the most efficient.
Sandro Mamukelashvili (9.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg) vs. Reid Travis is another decent match-up, but Travis has dominated for the better part of three or four years now. I don’t believe there’s a single player in college basketball that can out-muscle him. Mamukelashvili will crash the boards hard, but my money is on the fifth-year grad transfer.
Don’t get me wrong, Kentucky will have their hands full Saturday. It’s never easy to go on the road and win. But I think the Cats are just too talented to slip up in this one. It might be an ugly win, but I don’t expect the game to ever be in doubt.