In 2022, the two programs agreed to a six-year series which include two games at Rupp, two games in Spokane, and two neutral site games. After losing the first game of the series last season in Spokane, Kentucky will look to even it out this season.
While it is still a Quad I opportunity for Kentucky, just barely by four NET ranking spots, it’s not the ranked battle that many thought it would be.
Over the last decade, Gonzaga has been one of the winningest programs in college basketball. A lot of that has to do with playing in the WCC, but they are not even leading their league this season, two games back from Saint Mary’s. Over the season, the Bulldogs have just three top 100 NET wins and no Quad I wins.
Gonzaga has put themselves as a bubble team, currently on the outside looking in. For Kentucky, this is the type of team that they will play in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. With March Madness just on the horizon, it is a good test.
Gonzaga likes to play fast and excels in transition, averaging almost 21 points per game in that area. Most of the Bulldog’s transition opportunities don’t come off of turnovers, but off of defensive rebounds and hitting the outlet pass.
While playing fast plays in Kentucky’s favor on offense, they will need to get a few stops on the defensive end. This week Kentucky’s staff and players have talked about the effort needing to be better on the defensive end.
John Calipari even said that Kentucky is focusing about 70% of practice time on the defensive end, so that needs to translate into on-court success sooner rather than later.
Control the Boards
Gonzaga is one of the best rebounding teams that Kentucky will face the season, ranked 15th in the country in rebounds per game with nearly 40 per contest. Their rebounding helps fuel their offense.
As mentioned, the Bulldogs are really good at hitting the outlet pass off of defensive rebounds, but they also crash the offensive glass, grabbing a third of their misses.
Kentucky’s just outrebounded Vanderbilt 50-28 in Nashville. Let’s see if that can carry over to a more talented opponent.
Kentucky’s frontcourt will be a big factor on both sides of the ball on Saturday. On offense, they will have some looks with Gonzaga’s three-quarter top coverage to deny entry.
On defense, they will need to contain Anton Watson and Graham Ike, who combine for more than half of their offensive production.
With three 7-footers, Kentucky has the versatility to throw multiple looks at Gonzaga. You could pull the bigs out with Zvonimir Ivisic or Aaron Bradshaw to create more space on offense, or even put in Ugonna Onyenso to anchor the defense and provide a post presence.
It does look like there’s a decent chance Tre Mitchell will miss this game due to a lingering back issue, which means guys like Big Z and Bradshaw will need to step up even more.
Mitchell being out could also lead to more opportunities for Jordan Burks to play following his 13-point, five-rebound performance in just 15 minutes of work in the win over Vanderbilt.
Jordan Burks says if this team can defend, no one can beat them.— Tristan Pharis (@TristanUda) February 9, 2024
"If we can stop you, then we can do whatever we want to you on the offensive end. We're the number 1 offensive scoring team in the country. All 16 players can score. If all 16 can play defense, who can beat us?"… pic.twitter.com/fIpaXh58QM
Opposing Players to Watch
F Anton Watson 6-8, 228 lbs
- 14.5 PPG
- 7.7 RPG
- 2.6 APG
- 42.4% 3P
G Ryan Nembhard 6-0, 175 lbs
- 12.5 PPG
- 5.8 APG (25th in nation)
- 3.7 RPG
G Nolan Hickman 6-2, 183 lbs
- 13.0 PPG
- 50% of shot attempts have been 3P
Time: 4:00 PM EST
Date: February 10th, 2024
Location: Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center in Lexington, Kentucky.
TV Channel: CBS
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the radio call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has Kentucky favored by 5.5 points with an over/under of 170. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Kentucky a 70.3% chance of victory. EvanMiya is at 56%, while BartTorvik is at 64%. KenPom is at 60%, and DRatings has it at 65% in favor of the Cats.
Predictions: Bart Torvik is picking Kentucky to win 87-83. DRatings is going with an 86-81 victory for the Cats. Haslametrics and EvanMiya both project the home team to win 85-83. KenPom projects an 85-82 victory, Kentucky!
How do you see this one playing out? Be sure to send us your predictions in the comments section!