Getting to know: Kentucky basketball
This is what college basketball is all about.
Saturday’s battle between a pair of blue bloods should take centerstage this weekend, as No. 9 Kansas travels to No. 8 Kentucky for the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Neither coach is a fan of the timing of this contest, but it should be a strong basketball game that attracts the attention of the casual fan.
The Jayhawks (16-3) have won the last three meetings with the Wildcats (15-3). Kansas is also 4-1 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, which began in 2013, and has notched a pair of wins over Kentucky in this event.
KU and UK are the top-two winningest programs in NCAA Division I college basketball. Kentucky is first at 2,278 wins and Kansas is second at 2,264 victories. The blue-blood programs have also combined for 32 Final Fours, as Kentucky has 17 and Kansas has 15.
Tipoff is slated for 5 p.m.
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BREAKING DOWN KENTUCKY
No. 3 — G Keldon Johnson | 6-6, 211, fr.
As a freshman, Johnson is the team’s leading scorer with an average of 14.6 points per contest.
Johnson has scored in double figures in all but four games. He posted a team-high 20 points at Auburn just two games ago. Johnson has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week twice, and has produced five 20-point performances for the Wildcats.
Johnson is the only freshman in the country averaging at least 14.5 points per game, while shooting at least 50 percent from the field, and at least 38 percent from 3-point range (Min. 20 made triples) this season.
No. 22 — F Reid Travis | 6-8, 238, grad transfer.
Travis is arguably Kentucky’s most-important player, and he could have a big impact on the outcome of Saturday’s game.
The grad transfer from Stanford is third on the team in scoring with 12.6 points per game to go along with 6.7 rebounds per contest. Travis has the second-best offensive rating on the team with a 117.1, and is hitting 56.2 percent of his 2-point shots. This season, he has scored 20 or more points four different times.
Entering the season, Travis was named to the Preseason All-SEC first team. He collected more than 1,400 points and 700 rebounds at Stanford.
No. 14 — G Tyler Herro | 6-6, 211, fr.
Herro is second on the team in scoring with an average of 13.7 points per outing.
But during league play, Herro is actually leading the Wildcats in points. He’s also hit a team-high 32 3-pointers this season. Over the last 12 games, Herro is averaging a team-best 15.6 points per game and has reached double figures in 11 of the last 12 contest.
Herro is an efficient shooter, as he has a true shooting percentage of 57.6 and an effective field goal percentage of 53.6, per KenPom.com.
No. 25 — F PJ Washington | 6-8, 228, so.
Washington is coming off a 21-point, four-block game against Mississippi State.
This season, Washington is averaging 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 blocks per game for Kentucky. He’s helped Kentucky limit its last five opponents to 61.0 points per game, including Mississippi State, which scored a season-low 55 points on Tuesday.
According to KenPom, Washington is boasting a defensive rebound rate of 21.5.
No. 2 — G Ashton Hagans | 6-3, 192, fr.
Hagans is the only starter to not average in double figures, with an average of 8.0 points per contest.
That’s because Hagans is the team’s best defender, and provides his largest impact on that end of the floor. He was recently named to the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year midseason watch list.
In addition, Hagans leads UK with an average of 3.9 assists per game and has three or more in 12 straight contests.
ONE THING KENTUCKY DOES WELL
Kentucky owns the glass, which could be a crucial component against Kansas. The Wildcats are posting an offensive rebound rate of 38 percent, which is the eighth-best clip in college basketball.
ONE AREA KENTUCKY STRUGGLES
Like Kansas, Kentucky doesn’t defend the 3-ball particularly well. The Wildcats are allowing teams to hit 35.8 percent of their 3-point shots. To put that in comparison, the Jayhawks are allowing teams to shoot 33.8 percent from deep.
MEET THE COACH
The Wildcats are coached by John Calipari, who is 304-70 in his 10th season at Kentucky and 749-210 in his 27th season overall. Kentucky has won five straight and eight of its last nine games heading into Saturday’s contest.
Kentucky is a 6-point favorite for the latest battle between blue bloods. The Jayhawks seem to show up in tough games, and then struggle against teams they should roll. Because of that, I'll pick KU to cover the spread, but ultimately lose the game.
Prediction: Kentucky 75, Kansas 70