Morehead State Eagles (0-0) at Kentucky Wildcats (0-0)
- Game Time: 6 pm EST on Nov. 25th
- Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky
- TV Channel: The SEC Network will broadcast Kentucky’s first official game of the 2020-21 season.
- Announcers: Paul Sunderland and Jimmy Dykes will be calling the action.
- Online Stream: WatchESPN and fuboTV
- Replay: WatchESPN and the SEC Network (check local listings).
- Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM, 98.1 FM in Lexington, and on the UK Sports Network.
- Odds: Kentucky opened as a 23-pont favorite. KenPom gives Kentucky a 99% chance of winning.
- Rosters: UK | MSU
- Gameday changes for Rupp Arena
- Live Stats
- Prediction: TeamRankings projects an 80-61 victory for Kentucky. KenPom has the Cats winning 83-57.
There is a lot of hype coming into the season for this Kentucky roster, but without any preseason scrimmages or games, we won’t really know how good they can be until we see them on the court.
Kentucky has not played Morehead State since 2012, when the Wildcats pulled out a narrow victory behind 28 points from Archie Goodwin and 20 points from Alex Poythress. Morehead finished last season with a record of 13-19 and fell in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament to Tennessee State. The Eagles are coached by Preston Spradlin, who took over when Sean Woods was fired amidst behavior allegations back in 2016.
Morehead State will be missing their top two scorers from a year ago, Jordan Walker and Djimon Henson. Their most productive returner is sophomore forward Tyzhaun Claude who averaged 9.5 points and led the team with 6.4 rebounds per game last season.
Senior forward James Baker Jr. is the lone senior listed on the roster but one of their best players and a great rim defender. Baker enters the season ranked fourth in career blocked shots in program history with 104. As a sophomore in 2018-19, his 55 swats led the OVC in games against league foes. He regressed slightly last season as he blocked 44 shots but did up his scoring to 9.1 ppg to go with 4.4 boards per game.
Of Morehead State’s 2,208 points scored in 2019-20, only 35% (793) of that came from players who will suit up this season. Other notable players include sophomore guard Ta’lon Cooper (7.0 ppg, 3.1 apg and 2.8 rpg last season) and junior forward LJ Bryan (4.6 ppg and 3.3 rpg last season).
Morehead State is still searching for the program’s first-ever win over Kentucky, as the Eagles are 0-10 lifetime against the Wildcats.
You would imagine that height would be a major issue coming into this contest, but the Eagles are surprisingly tall. They have six players on the roster that are 6-7 or taller, including 6-10 freshman Johni Broome. Of course, even with that size it will be tough to match up against Kentucky’s length.
The Wildcats will be starting four players 6-7 or taller. The anticipated starting lineup is freshman point guard Devin Askew, freshmen wings Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston, either Keion Brooks or Isaiah Jackson, and senior transfer Olivier Sarr. Askew is the smallest player in that lineup at 6-3.
However, John Calipari revealed Monday that Brooks is likely to miss this week’s games, so don’t expect to see him suit up Wednesday. Obviously, Brooks is the only returning Wildcat with any experience. He played an average of 15.1 minutes per game last year, although that was very backloaded as he proved himself capable of contributing in a major way during league play in the spring.
Brooks returned to try and win a national championship and to raise his draft stock into becoming a first-round pick, but that’s obviously off to a not-so-good start if he does indeed miss Kentucky’s first three games. Hopefully, he’s able to play next Tuesday when the Cats and Kansas Jayhawks clash in the Champions Classic.
With Brooks out, freshman forward Isaiah Jackson figures to be the starting 4. He’s been the biggest revelation of fall practice thus far, so much that he’s now expected to be a one-and-done player who could go in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft.
After watching Big Blue Madness and Kentucky’s annual Pro Day, we do know a few things about this team. They are very long with great wingspan in addition to their impressive height. They are versatile as it seems everyone in the top seven or eight players in the rotation can shoot from anywhere on the court. And perhaps most importantly, they are fast and aggressive.
Most of Calipari’s teams that have struggled in Lexington have been held back by timid play and the lack of a player winning to attack on the offensive end. After watching these young guys and the myriad of transfers (Sarr, Davion Mintz, and Jacob Toppin) compete against each other, it seems like the focus may be patience and discipline for this group instead of fight and aggression.
Of all of John Calipari’s inexperienced teams, this is by far the most inexperienced, especially as it pertains to playing together. And it sounds like they’re having rough start to the season, as Calipari said Monday he’s very concerned with this team’s fight. And on Sunday, they had what Calipari called the worst scrimmage he’s seen since arriving in Lexington in 2009.
The mistake I may have made with this group...I should’ve worried more about fight and less about the specific x’s and o’s,” Calipari said. “You try to balance it, but I think I went a little too much...‘let’s be prepared to look like a basketball team.’”
Is this just coach speak, or are the Cats going to have more growing pains early on than originally expected?
Without a real preseason, it is impossible to anticipate the trajectory of this group. Will they be hot out of the gate like the 2014-2015 group? Or will it take some time to get their footing like the 2009-2010 team?
The journey to finding out starts on Wednesday.