- Date: March 21, 2019
- Game Time: 7:10 pm EST
- Location: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
- TV Channel: The game will be broadcast in primetime on CBS.
- Online Stream: You can stream the game online or on your mobile device using NCAA March Madness Live.
- Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM and 98.1 FM in Lexington or online at UKAthletics.com.
- Replay: NCAA March Madness
- Rosters: UK | ACU
- Odds: Kentucky opened as a 22-point favorite, but since the PJ Washington news came out, the lien dropped to 20.
- Predictions: UK has a 96.3-percent chance to win, according to ESPN’s matchup predictor. KenPom gives the Lexington Cats a 93-percent chance of winning while projecting a 75-59 score. TeamRankings projects a 78-54 win for Kentucky.
- Digital Gameday Guide
While we wait for the game, here a look at the first look at Kentucky being featured in Inside the Madness:
First NCAA March Madness Confidential feature ⬇️⬇️⬇️— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 21, 2019
Kentucky begins NCAA Tournament play today against Abilene Christian. The game will take place at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, FL, and will tip-off at 7:10 pm on CBS.
Although some are disappointed that Kentucky did not end up with a 1 seed or with the fact that they are not playing in Louisville, the Wildcats’ draw really isn’t bad. Without looking ahead too far, though, let’s spend some time on the opening opponent: Abilene Christian University (ACU).
This is ACU’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, and in comes in only their sixth season playing Division I basketball. They started the transition from Division II in the 2012-2013 season, and after a four year transition period they failed to make the tournament last season. However, they punched their ticket by winning the Southland Conference Tournament on Saturday.
ACU finished the season with a record of 27-6, coming in second in the conference for the regular season. Their lone ranked opponent was the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who defeated ACU 82-48 back in December.
The ACU Wildcats were led in scoring for most of the season by junior center Jalone Friday, but Friday was dismissed from the team in late February for violating campus policies. Fellow junior BJ Maxwell was dismissed from the team at the same time. Maxwell was a starting guard for the team for most of the season.
Despite losing two starters, ACU finished the season strong to claim the Southland Conference Tournament title and they are riding a six game winning streak heading into the big dance.
The Kentucky Wildcats, on the other hand, are coming off of a tough loss to the Tennessee Volunteers in the SEC Tournament. It was a battle in Nashville, showing that these two elite teams have what it takes to compete for a championship moving forward. It should be a strong learning experience for this young team going into the tournament that matters most.
Keys to the Game
Defend the Three
This is always the mantra for NCAA Tournament opening games, right? A lot of these mid-major teams that qualify solely based on winning their conference tournament usually do so by shooting lights out. ACU is no different.
As a team, ACU has hit 38.6% of their three-pointers this season. Of the players on the team with at least 15 three-point attempts on the season, four players are shooting over 40% on the year. That is very impressive, and in order to avoid an upset, Kentucky had better guard the perimeter.
Pound the Paint
ACU does not have a single starter that stands over 6-7. Their star center, Jalone Friday, was kicked off the team last month, so the paint should be open for any and all of Kentucky’s big men to eat.
As always, it will be important to stay out of foul trouble. With much smaller defenders, the danger of getting called for petty offensive fouls will definitely be there. But if Kentucky can get the ball into the paint and hit the offensive glass, it should go a long way to wear down ACU.
Don’t Look Ahead
The potential matchups in the second round of the tournament are very intriguing. If Kentucky wins Thursday, they could get a rematch with Seton Hall who defeated them back in December. Myles Powell has been on a tear, and the story lines for that game would be fun, but also stressful.
The other matchup is with a very dangerous Wofford team that is riding a 20-game winning streak and features one of the best players in college basketball in Fletcher Magee.
It would be easy for Kentucky to look ahead to either of those matchups on Saturday, so it is very important for the team to stay focused on Thursday and get the job done against ACU.
And in the Big Dance, how well a team plays their first game can affect how well they play in their second game just two days later. Playing great on Thursday can build momentum for a similar showing on Saturday.
Players to Watch
The senior forward leads the ACU Wildcats in both points (13.7 per game) and rebounds (6.2) per game. He has really picked up the slack since the team lost Jalone Friday. He is not normally a threat from deep, shooting just 32.5% from three, but that probably means he is due for a lights out performance.
He is athletic and can get into the paint. Keldon Johnson will likely draw this matchup. Hopefully he takes this challenge to hard and gives Lews his best effort.
Ricks has attempted nearly 200 three-point shots on the season, and he has made 40.8% of them. To put that in context, he has taken more than 40 more threes than Tyler Herro and has made 23 more. This kid can shoot.
This is exactly the kind of player that can give Kentucky fits if he gets open looks. Tyler Herro likely gets this assignment, and he had better not leave Ricks’ hip pocket.
Franklin has only taken a handful of three-pointers this season (18), but he has made 44.4% of them. However, he does average over ten points per game and leads the team with 4.9 assists per game. His job is to find Ricks open for three or to get the ball to Lewis in position to score.
Ashton Hagans has to contain Franklin, and if he can get him rattled it’ll be a long day for ACU. He creates a lot of good looks for his teammates, and if Hagans throws off his game they may have a hard time scoring.