I hope all of you enjoyed the holiday with your families. After a short holiday break, the Kentucky Wildcats will be back in action on Wednesday as they take on a Missouri Tiger team that is ranked right outside the Top 25.
With an 11-1 record under new head coach, Dennis Gates, the Tigers are off to their best start in over a decade. Yet, that record can be a bit deceiving as their schedule has been far from difficult. In fact, ranked 315th in strength of schedule, Missouri has had second-easiest slate of the teams ranked in the top 50, only behind TCU (359th).
With that said, the Tigers are coming off their most impressive performance of the season against aN Illinois team that was ranked 16th at the time. Winning 93-71, Missouri showed they are better than the projected 11th-place SEC finish from the preseason media poll.
Let’s take a closer look at Kentucky’s SEC opener.
Defense, Defense, Defense
As previously mentioned, the Missouri schedule has been far from difficult. However, scoring 93 points against a top 30 Illinois defense is nothing to scoff at. The performance was not an outlier, but rather showed what the Tigers are capable of against a quality opponent.
On the season, the Missouri offense ranks second in the country in points (88.8) and are also towards the top in assists (20.0), shooting percentage (51.3%), and points per possession (1.207).
Fortunately for Kentucky, defense has been a strength and will prove valuable on Wednesday. What will the Wildcats have to key in on?
A big focus will be on guarding the perimeter. While the Tigers don’t solely rely on perimeter shooting, it is a big part of their game. Limiting three-point opportunities will allow Kentucky to shrink the floor, and in-turn help to defend a lot of Missouri's off-ball movement.
Through twelve games, six different players have led the team in scoring for Missouri. Therefore, the Wildcat defense will have to play well as a unit, as the Tigers do not rely on one or two players.
Take Care of the Ball
One thing that Kentucky has struggled with, especially in their losses, is taking care of the ball. Against Missouri, the Tigers will do their best to generate turnovers.
On average, the Tigers are forcing nearly 20 turnovers per game, with 13 of them originating from steals. This provides the Tigers with 20 more possessions, which they tend to capitalize on given their offensive efficiency numbers.
With an offense that has yet to find its full stride, Kentucky will have to play disciplined and make smart decisions on the offensive end.
Crash the Defensive Glass
To put it simply, outside of Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky has not been great at rebounding consistently. As the Wildcats enter conference play, that must change. A great time to show improvement would be against Missouri.
While not being a great rebounding team in general, the Tigers do like to crash the offensive boards, grabbing nearly 10 per game and nearly a third of their attempts.
In addition to taking care of the ball, the Wildcats must assert their dominance on the boards, preventing Missouri from getting any more possessions/second chance opportunities.
Time/Date: 7:00 pm ET on Wednesday, December 28th, 2022.
Location: Mizzou in Columbia, Missouri
TV Channel: SEC Network
Announcers: Dave Neal and Dane Bradshaw
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has Kentucky at -3. ESPN’s matchup predictor has confidence in Kentucky, giving the Wildcats an 65.6% chance of winning, while Bart Torvik gives Missouri a 51% advantage. KenPom has it at 56% in favor of the Cats.