After beating Georgetown College 92-69 last week, the Kentucky Wildcats will have one more exhibition to prepare for the regular season, which is less than a week away.
On Thursday, the Wildcats will take on the Kentucky State Thoroughbreds, a Division II, historically black college from Frankfort. This will be the fourth preseason exhibition played between the two teams, all taking place since 2015.
Unlike another D1 program in this state (cough... cough... Louisville), don’t expect Kentucky to lose on Thursday, but it is an opportunity to get better and get more on-court experience and chemistry.
Let’s take a look.
First Game Jitters Gone
Coming out of the gate against Georgetown, Kentucky’s freshmen looked to have excitement but lacked aggression, which resulted in a poor shooting night for some of them and some first-half struggles. Between Justin Edwards, Reed Sheppard, and DJ Wagner, the trio combined for 7-25 (28%) from the field.
That said, each player still did something good. Edwards showed his versatility. Sheppard showed how he can impact the game without scoring. Wagner showed his ability to get downhill and get into the lane. The one exception was Rob Dillingham, who played well all around and continues to impress.
With their first game at Rupp Arena now behind them, I would expect a much better performance this time out. Given their mentality and competitiveness, they don’t want to put up two straight so-so performances. This is also a great confidence-boosting opportunity ahead of the season.
Part of Kentucky’s struggles in the first half was due to poor shot selection. As Adam Stratton of Kentucky Sports Radio pointed out, the Wildcats reverted to a bad habit, shooting the mid-range shot.
Last season, Kentucky shot 24.6% of their two-point shots beyond 10 feet. In the first half against Georgetown, the Wildcats shot nine (making just two) of their 37 field goal attempts from midrange, making up 24.3% of their shots, a very similar percentage to last season. Now, in the second half, that number decreased to 10.8%.
On Thursday, it will be interesting to see if Kentucky reverts back to those shots, which the defense is intentionally giving up, or continues to make the push toward modern basketball with more efficient shots and better spacing.
Run, Run, Run
Still, early in the season, there are not a lot of details in Kentucky’s offense thus far. In last week’s exhibition, there were some basic dribble-drive principles, with excellent spacing given the smaller lineups being played. That said, it’s hard to invest too much into an offensive philosophy when the team is going to look different when three seven-footers are brought into the lineup.
That said, one area where this team can really shine is in transition. With guards that can get downhill (Wagner and Dillingham), shooting threats (Reeves, Sheppard, and even Mitchell), and lob/cut threats like Edwards and Bradshaw (when he returns), Kentucky has a plethora of options to play with.
It starts with turnovers, rebounds, and 50/50 balls. So look for the Wildcats to get into passing lanes, crash the boards, and get on the floor.
Time/Date: 7:00 pm ET on Thursday, November 2nd, 2023
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky
TV Channel: Not available. Online streaming only
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).