Indiana Hoosiers vs. Kentucky Wildcats (preview)

Kentucky Wildcats
Current record: 9-0
Current RPI: 23
Current Sagarin: 10
Current Pomeroy: 58
2008-09 record:  22-14 (8-8), lost to Notre Dame in NIT
2008-09 RPI: 79
2008-09 Sagarin: 51
2008-09 Pomeroy: 52
Pomeroy scouting report
Series:  Kentucky leads 29-23
TV: Noon Saturday, CBS
Blog: A Sea of Blue

Ah, Kentucky.  IU's premier non-conference rivalry resumes on Saturday at noon.  The Kentucky series highlights a substantial divide in the IU fan base.  In my experience, fans from northern and central Indiana overwhelmingly consider Purdue to be IU's biggest rival, but at a certain point south (State Road 44?  US 50?  The beginning of the 812 area code?), IU fans consider the Wildcats IU's most hated enemy.  As noted above, Kentucky has a lead in the series, thanks to a 13-4 lead by Kentucky since 1991.  IU has won twice in the last four years, including the game two years ago at Assembly Hall.  Of course, from 1991-2005, the series was played at neutral sites  (the RCA Dome in Indianapolis and Freedom Hall in Louisville) with the tickets divided roughly evenly.  Because of a scheduling conflict in Louisville, the series moved back to the campuses in 2006.  Kentucky last won in Bloomington in 1981 and has lost five consecutive games at Assembly Hall.  Extending the homecourt streak to 6 will be a formidable task for the Hoosiers.  Kentucky is 9-0.  UK dominated the relatively challenge-free first seven games of the schedule, but proved their legitimacy by beating North Carolina last weekend and Connecticut last night.

After a couple of lackluster years under the leadership of Billy Gillispie, Kentucky fired him and hired John Calipari away from Memphis.  Calipari is, his supporters would have us believe, simply the unluckiest man in the history of college basketball.  Despite no inclination toward cheating himself (and it is true that he's never been personally implicated by the NCAA), Calipari is the only coach in NCAA history who has had two NCAA Final Four appearances vacated.  His run to the 1996 Final Four while the coach at Massachusetts was vacated because star Marcus Camby had received gifts from an agent.  His 2008 NCAA runner-up finish with Memphis was vacated because of Derrick Rose's SAT score was invalidated, and Rose might have been rule ineligible for a second reason: his hanger-on brother was allowed to travel on the team's private jet.  In fairness to Kentucky, the Memphis issues arose after Cal was hired.

Of course, IU gave up much of the moral high ground, and a long-standing tradition of making fun of Kentucky's sordid history, by hiring Kelvin Sampson when he was under NCAA investigation, a move further exacerbated by his commission of similar violations at IU.  Still, IU could rationalize the Sampson hire by pointing to its (now formerly) spotless NCAA compliance record as say, "we'll keep him in line."  Kentucky?  Not so much.  A program with a history of corruption hired a coach who often finds himself surrounded by scandal, if not directly implicated in it.  And for now, it's working.  Perhaps Cal's reputation is deserved.  Perhaps this game will end up in IU's win column a few years down the road instead of tomorrow.  Time will tell.

Kentucky is putting an outstanding team on the court:


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
John Wall 9 30.8 5.6 9.9 56.2 0.7 1.9 35.3 5.1 6.3 80.7 0.8 2.7 3.4 6.2 4.2 2.7 0.6 2.0 16.9
Patrick Patterson 9 32.0 6.8 10.6 64.2 0.8 1.8 43.8 2.2 3.8 58.8 3.8 5.7 9.4 0.7 1.1 0.2 1.1 1.0 16.6
DeMarcus Cousins 9 21.3 5.4 10.4 52.1 0.1 0.2 50.0 3.2 6.1 52.7 3.7 4.7 8.3 0.3 2.0 0.6 2.1 3.6 14.2
Eric Bledsoe 9 28.6 3.1 7.4 41.8 1.3 2.8 48.0 2.2 2.8 80.0 0.1 2.1 2.2 3.2 3.8 1.3 0.6 2.6 9.8
Darnell Dodson 6 19.3 3.3 7.0 47.6 1.8 4.8 37.9 0.3 0.8 40.0 1.0 1.8 2.8 1.2 1.3 0.5 0.3 1.2 8.8
Darius Miller 9 29.3 2.7 7.1 37.5 1.6 4.3 35.9 0.9 1.0 88.9 1.1 2.1 3.2 1.8 1.1 0.9 0.4 2.3 7.8
Daniel Orton 9 13.8 1.2 2.7 45.8 0.0 0.1 0.0 1.6 2.4 63.6 1.3 1.9 3.2 0.8 1.3 0.9 1.8 2.9 4.0
Ramon Harris 9 17.4 0.6 2.3 23.8 0.0 0.9 0.0 0.7 1.2 54.5 1.2 2.8 4.0 1.1 1.4 0.7 0.2 0.9 1.8
Josh Harrellson 8 5.0 0.5 1.0 50.0 0.1 0.1 100.0 0.3 0.3 100.0 0.5 0.6 1.1 0.0 0.3 0.1 0.4 0.4 1.4
Perry Stevenson 9 7.4 0.1 0.4 25.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 0.9 62.5 0.3 1.3 1.7 0.3 0.4 0.1 0.6 0.3 0.8
Jon Hood 4 8.5 0.3 1.3 20.0 0.3 0.8 33.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 0.5 0.8 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.5 0.8
Mark Krebs 4 2.3 0.0 0.8 0.0 0.0 0.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.0

 

The Wildcats are let by a strong nucleus that includes two freshmen, point guard John Wall and forward Demarcus Cousins, both of whom committed to Kentucky after Calipari was hired.  Wall's offensive numbers are outstanding for a freshman.  Although he's a guard, he's shooting 52 percent from the field overall in addition to 35 percent from three point range, and he averages 6.2 assists per game (although he is averaging 4 turnovers per game as well).  On the defensive end, he is averaging 2.7 steals per game, so he will present a formidable challenge for IU's guards on both ends of the court.  Cousins is shooting over 50 percent from the field and is a force as a rebounder.  Finally, junior Patrick Patterson is the most valuable holdover form the Gillispie era and is shooting 64 percent from the field and averaging nearly 10 rebounds a game to go with his 16.6 points per game.

Kentucky's Pomeroy numbers are not overwhelmingly good at this point, although it is quite early.  The most impressive numbers on Kentucky's offense are offensive rebounding (42.6%, #10) and two point shooting (54%, #27).  Given IU's strength in forcing turnovers, however, the Hoosiers can be heartened by UK's 23.9 turnover percentage (#291).  For comparison, IU is at 21.3 in that category: not great, but much improved.  UK's turnover percentage is trending in the right direction, however.  On the defensive side, Kentucky has been really good, thanks in part to strong interior defense.  UK is #2 in the nation in block percentage and #16 in two point field goal defense.  Given IU's propensity toward having shots blocked (13 percent, #319), this could be a problem.

IU, after its best win of the Crean era, faces a substantial challenge.  Kentucky is loaded, and the Wildcat defense will present significant problems for IU.  At first blush, this strikes me as a game that in which both teams are in better shape defensively than offensively.  Can IU exploit Kentucky turnovers?  Can IU actually get a shot off inside the arc?  All good questions, but at least after Tuesday's win, it doesn't seem crazy to hope for, if not expect, a good result.

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