After six days off, the Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team will return to action against the Bellarmine Knights.
Inheriting a losing Division II team in 2005, head coach Scott Davenport has turned around the Bellarmine program, winning the 2012 Division II championship and leading them to Division I in 2020.
Despite being in Division I for just two seasons, the Knights have made an impressive transition.
In their first season, Bellarmine was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Sun but finished second in the regular season and went to the CBI semifinals.
Last season, they made an even bigger jump, winning 20 games en route to a second-place finish in the ASUN and winning the conference tournament.
But due to the NCAA-mandated reclassification, the Knights are not eligible for the NCAA Tournament or NIT until 2025.
Since becoming a D1 school, Bellarmine has been known to play a difficult non-conference schedule, and this season is no different.
With a 2-5 record, the Knights beat Louisville 67-66 in their season opener - to win the title for the best team in Louisville - the Knights have played at Duke and UCLA, and will end their gauntlet road trip with Kentucky.
Let’s look at the things to know for Kentucky Wildcats vs. Bellarmine Knights.
One of Kentucky’s biggest strengths, which is coincidentally one of Bellarmine’s weaknesses, is rebounding.
Averaging 43.2 rebounds per game, the Wildcats are the seventh-best rebounding team in the country. Whereas, the Knights are the seventh-worst rebounding team, averaging just 27.6 per contest.
As mentioned before, Bellarmine will do their best to limit possessions. If Kentucky dominates the boards as they should, they can create extra opportunities for themselves on offense.
Find roles for Damion Collins Going and Chris Livingston
This season, many Wildcats have had standout performances. Yet there is one that hasn’t, Damion Collins.
On his weekly call-in show last week, Calipari mentioned that Collins was the best player in this season’s preseason practices, before his father, Ben Collins, passed away.
Thus far, Collins’ best performance has been a 6-point, 7-rebound performance against South Carolina State. While this isn’t bad, the Wildcats will need more from their first big man off the bench. A confidence-boosting performance against Bellarmine would help.
As for Livingston, he has averaged just over 15 minutes per game and has done good things when he has played, especially defensively and with rebounding. However, when he plays the three-spot, it hurts the offense. It would be nice to see Livingston display the ability to play some four and be comfortable with it.
While Bellarmine does not have the talent or athleticism that Kentucky has, they play disciplined basketball and do not beat themselves. The Knights rank toward the bottom of the country in turnovers, opponent steals, and opponent blocks.
In addition, Bellarmine is one of the slowest teams in the country, averaging just 62.3 possessions per game (ranked 361st) and giving up just 63.8 shot attempts for the opponent. On those shot attempts, they defend very well as their opponents shoot just 38.1 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from three.
This opposes what Kentucky tries to do, as they are one of the fastest teams in the country. With that said, it is much easier to slow down a game than speed it up, and Bellarmine was able to accomplish that against Duke and UCLA.
With a more limited amount of possessions, it will be key for Kentucky to execute against a disciplined team.
Kentucky Basketball vs. Bellarmine Knights
Time/Date: 7 pm ET on Tuesday, November 29
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky
TV Channel: Yet again, this is an online stream-only game, so you won’t see this live on normal television.
Live Online Stream: WatchESPN, ESPN+, SEC Network+ or ESPN app
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings has Kentucky favored by 25.5 points. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Wildcats a 95.9% chance of winning, and Bart Torvik has it at 97%, while KenPom is at 99%.
Predictions: Bart Torvik picked the Cats to win 80-58. KenPom projects an 81-56 victory, Kentucky!