Know Thy Opponent: Kentucky Wildcats

UK Basketball media day

Some freshmen live up to the hype while others struggle to adjust to the speed and rigors of college basketball. And every so often, a special talent comes along who not only meets expectations, but shatters them. Through eight games of what is sure to be his only season in Lexington, John Wall is that special talent.

His numbers are remarkable: 19.0 ppg (56% FG), 7.0 apg, 3.8 rpg and 3 spg. But more importantly, Wall is the primary reason that Kentucky basketball has transformed from an N.I.T. team last season to 9-0 and No. 4 in the nation this season.

After the Billy Gillispie experiment failed miserably, UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart needed a hire that would instantly put the program back at the forefront nationally. Recruits were no longer viewing Kentucky as a top tier destination. Fans were restless with the lack of NCAA Tournament success since the program’s last championship in 1998 under Tubby Smith. So Barnhart, with his job likely on the line if he didn’t make the right hire, went to Memphis and hired John Calipari.

Calipari sold Patrick Patterson, Kentucky’s top returning player, on the idea of returning to school to play for a national championship. He quickly assembled the nation’s top recruiting class: Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Darnell Dodson and Gillispie holdovers Daniel Orton and Jon Hood. And in a matter of months, Calipari quickly captured the adoration of Kentucky’s rabid fanbase.

To this point, the script couldn’t have played out much better. The Wildcats have wins over a pair of top 15 teams – North Carolina and Connecticut. They also have character building close calls: An OT win over Stanford in Cancun and and a buzzer-beater from Wall to drop Miami (OH) in their second game of the season.

Patterson, primarily a back to the basket player his first two seasons, is thriving in the dribble drive offense (16.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg). Wall and Bledsoe, a pair of point guards, have seamlessly meshed in the backcourt. And Cousins, a one-time Mike Davis UAB recruit, is nearly averaging a double-double despite consistently finding himself in foul trouble.

What remains to be seen is how this talented group will respond in a true road environment, which they’ll experience for the first time on Saturday in Bloomington.

  • Walt

    Hoping Assembly Hall has a big advantage for the Hoosiers – after reading about Kentucky's close games to Miami(OH) and Stanford and this being their first real road game I feel better about IU's chances. What a huge W it would would be.

  • Rick

    Imagine if Jody Meeks had stayed…scary

  • Rick

    Imagine if Jody Meeks had stayed…scary

  • peaychris

    i kinda like the matchup… i still think there is a better than good chance we will get killed, but if rivers stays with wall and doesnt let him go completely off that will help.. we need to stay aggressive down low and go strong to the basket. patterson was hobbled in the last game against u conn, and if watford can be active then we should be in good shape.. lastly limit turnovers!! GO HOOSIERS!

  • Bedo

    Hoosier Nation know this – any of you who think IU has a chance of losing by less than 10 – go have an epidural tap and check for LSD in your system. Sure UK has had some tough games as they grow as a team. You can be sure Coach Cal will have them ready as he knows this is one of the key rivalry games they play annually. He would have to win the National Championship to get over a close game with IU to appease the fans.

    Maybe Crean will play Bawa and Tijan more to combat the UK Clydesdales in the paint.

    UK 84 IU 71 learn it, love it, live it!

  • SanDiegoRon

    Great Board! I like that the smack talk is absent, unlike on Indystar. I only saw the first half of the KY/UNC game, and I agree that if KY plays like that it won’t be pretty. I can’t see how we win this game, but next year, when Wall and Patterson are gone, we’ll see.

  • IUHoosierK

    MSG is what we like to call a neutral court. A true road game consists of playing on your opponent’s home court.

  • BiggestIUFan

    IU WILL WIN!!!!!!!!

  • Bill

    I believe the UK AD's name is Mitch Barnhart……no “d” – by the way, I love your website! Go Hoosiers!

  • catfan

    MSG is practically 20 minutes from UCONN not exactly nuetral

  • http://www.insidethehall.com Alex

    Thanks for the correction.

  • Kelin Blab

    I can't see IU getting blown out at home and against another young team. KY is currently the type of team that would blow someone out on the road….not yet at least. What I can see happening is Kentucky having trouble with IU's zone, IU getting hit by a kentucky run, and a game where the non stars will shine…..

  • semmoran

    I went to that Kentucky/UConn game at MSG and the IU/Pitt game the night before. If we lose by less than 20 I will be shocked.

    We have made a ton of strides but that team is just on a different level than us right now. I put our upset chances at about 1%.

    Plus, they shoot the ball extremely well, so I don't think the zone is going to be as much of a factor. Pitt doesn't shoot the 3 very well so it really benefited us there.

    I also think we are going to get dominated on the glass – they're just better athletes in that regard.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/SPGOT33W43BNOXGO6SFWIU2FWU Jason

    I hate UK…always have….always will. But I can tell you this….if UK puts it together for a full game, they could easily beat us by 30. I've watched everybody and so far I think UK has the biggest upside of any team in the country including Kansas. Did you see what they did to North Carolina in the first half? That was scary.

    However, it's VERY hard to control a game the entire 40 minutes, especially when you're up against a smart coach who knows how to adjust (like Calhoun did after UK's run to start the game). I would LOVE to see IU pull this off on Saturday but so many things would have to fall into place. I'm more concerned with how we're going to contain Patterson and Cousins than I am with Wall. I think Elston has a chance to really shine in this game. He has the size, athleticism and attitude to play with those guys inside. If he can show up…that will help a lot. I also see this as an opportunity for Maurice Creek and/or Watford to explode onto the national scene.

  • CreamandCrimson

    This is going to be a very tough game but I wouldn't say they shoot the ball “extremely well.” They are shooting 49% as a team, 66% from the line, and 36% on three-pointers.

    Another factor that can't be overlooked is that they are averaging 17 turnovers a game (opponents are averaging 15 a game). They have played a good UConn team and a good mid-major squad in Miami of Ohio. I am not disagreeing that Kentucky is much, much better than IU at this point. I just don't think they anywhere close to unbeatable for us.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Did anyone see the Syracuse/Florida last night? The 'Cuse are the second best team I have seen play this season. Kansas still has the talent edge over them but Syracuse has a lot of weapons. Andy Rautins is a lot of fun to watch and Jackson and Onuaku are beasts inside. No connection to the Hoosiers, just enjoyed watching them play.

  • plane1972

    Great analysis, Jason. I agree that Patterson and Cousins will be the critical elements for UK. A guy like Orton could go off, too, without a true center to match up with him. If you look at those guys, they make Elston look pretty slight in stature. It would be good to see Capo mix it up with those guys just to make them earn their stats down low. If we get down big, I say use every foul that Tijan, Bawa, Capo and Elston have just to make sure those guys go back to Lexington with some bumps and bruises. Calipari has brought back my deep disdain for UK that hadn't been there since the Pitino days.

  • iudrew22

    what a refreshing comments section compared to the Peegs boards. It is nice to just talk about the game and the players rather than everything else.

    I just don't know if we have enough speed to deal with UK. The biggest thing I took away from their game with UConn was how fast the game was played. We try to play an up-tempo game but we don't play at half the speed that I watched on Wednesday night…that is what concerns me.

    either way…I will be pulling hard for IU to beat UK…I am starting to hate UK more than PU…

  • cooper

    Love when I don't have to go to the office and can work from home before game day.

    Watched Syracuse game too, somehow Boheim always has 2-3 athletic big men, wish we could get a couple.

    I think UK is a streaky shooting team, not a good one. Zone is the only shot. IU doesn't have the man defense to stay infront of both Wall and Bledsoe. Then dealing with their bigs is another issue. Rivers is hurt and we can't have him getting in foul trouble. If IU is in man situations, Dumes should guard him. UCONN has better guards and UK got by them pretty consistently. If they hit shots from the perimeter they win. This isn't a game where if both teams play their best its a pick'em game. They are better, and have to play worse than IU for IU to win.

    Bledsoe, Patterson and Wall are all capable of scoring over 20. IU has to limit them to one 20pt scorer. As far as Patterson is concerned he likes the 15ft jumper. IU has to let him shoot it, because if he plays back to the basket he will be hard to stop.

    As Cream/Crimson said they don't shoot foul shots well. If I'm Crean I tell the 5 bigs (Pritch, Elston, Capo, Jobe, and Bawa) to foul. The difference between those 5 (except Bawa maybe) is minimal. Foul them and foul them hard, no and 1's. I'd like to see Wall on the ground when he drives. Not dirty just hard. I'll take my chances with them shooting free throws. Slows momentum and hopefully wears them down

    What do you guys see on offense? I think they are slow to get back on D and ball watch. IU's problem is creating their own shots. Screens off the ball will be key. I think this is a game where Dumes has to go off for us to win. I don't remember what game it was last year but he hit about 5 threes and scored 25pts or so.

    Even if all these things happen I'm not sure it leads to a win.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I'd love to see Dumes (or anyone) go off. Unfortunately, he hasn't shown he is capable of scoring double-figures, let alone 25. Creek is capable of getting hot from outside and draining some threes but that is about it. Rivers won't be hitting any threes, VJIII won't hit very many. IU is going to shoot well from deep to pull off the upset but I am not sure who is going to do it.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Wow, epidural tap and LSD. Pretty sure Coach Cal will need to win national titles to appease the fans regardless of what happens tomorrow.

  • Ryan Weller

    For the West coasters (such as myself):

    Crean and Coffee Sat. Morning!

    Expect Don to get as excited as he was in 2002:

    “We beat Duke! We beat Duke!”

  • BFowler

    If the team goes into the game with the mindset that keeping it close is acceptable, that is exactly what they will get. As a coach, fan, or player, you have to go into every game believing you can win and making a plan (coach and player, not fans neccessarily) to win. With that in mind, the keys to beating Kentucky are transition defense, keeping John Wall out of the paint, and keeping Patrick Patterson from dominating inside. Easier said than done, I know.

    I think the only way to win is for the zone defense to be as effective as it was against Pitt. Individually, I think JR is strong enough to keep Wall on the outside, but is he quick enough? (Dumes has the quickness (not Wall's speed) to stick with him int he half-court, but gambles a lot.) If he backs off, will Wall find his outside stroke? There is no Jon Diebler on UK, but Bledsoe, Miller, or Wall could get hot and that spells doom.

    However, planning to give up the outside shot beats taking our chances with Patterson inside. If we looked at individual match-ups, JR could “contain” Wall, if Wall struggles from the outside. Creek is a match-up problem for Bledsoe (which is why I picked him to “click”), but Miller's size could cause him problems. VJ III would be trouble for Bledsoe with his height, but matches up well defensively with Miller (unless they post Miller, but I think with Patterson and Cousins, you wouldn't want Miller on the block). Pritchard and Capo and Tijan and Bawa (if he sees the court) could lean all over Cousins and Orton and hold their own. I think Cousins lacks drive and enthusiasm in what I have seen from him. Watford and Elston will have problems with Patterson. That is the key match-up. If we contain Patterson, the others have potential to lean IU's way.

    Or, it could all just fall apart after KY's opening salvo……

  • JerryCT

    This game is a wonderful chance for each of our kids to measure up against 5 stars….in this regard KY has an edge. I donot think either team is playing with the “teamwork” that is expected of them as they mature through the season. As a result, i am hoping we have developed enough to out “teamwork” them , proving we are faster learners.

    Now 'Cuse on the other hand would destroy us w that zone

  • ace132

    Agree to disagree. like crean and crimson said Kentucky definitely does not shoot the ball extremely well. There wasn't a made three pointer till the middle of the second half against uconn. We want them to shoot from the outside, i am just worried about our rebounding. Patterson is a handful by himself then add cousins an co. off the bench and it could bee a long night. keep it close and hope kentucky panics, thats our best shot

  • cooper

    For the most part we are mostly saying the same thing. Its going to come down to their perimeter shooting and rebounding. If they are missing shots and not getting offensive rebounds IU can stick around until the final 5 minutes and hopefully win.

    If they are draining their shots, I don't see how IU wins or keeps it close. I watched both Syracuse/Florida and UCONN/UK and the speed at which UK plays is amazing. Obviously Syracuse and Florida have different styles but UK reminds me of how UNLV played in the early 90's (NO I don't think they are close to as good as that team, I'm talking generalizations). They go at 100mph, but they also allow the other team to go that fast too. IU can capitalize on running before they get set on D. Problem is slowing them down. Maybe Crean should watch the tape of Duke/UNLV and see how Duke won and implement that game plan.

  • rvrex

    MSG was not a real road game???????????????

  • Kelin Blab

    I look forward to seeing how this game plays out….

    + Who plays their style the most?
    + How does IU's pitt win carry over
    + Will IU's post guys step up to the challenge?
    + Will this crowd rival Duke/IU/Marco Dunk crowd?
    + Will I turn down the sound and listen to Fish on this one? Not sure who is doing the game but I need my announcer to be excited tomorrow…..
    + With Ky's size, will Bawa make an appearance?
    + Will Tijan frustrate Cousins? CHallenge Patterson?

  • tberry

    I know we think we play an up-tempo game but KY will out-quick us. The outside shot is something to worry about but so is KY's quickness!!!

  • kyken

    I'm a big UK fan, and so excited about our team this year. I'm also excited for your Indiana team too. You have a great coach that will bring your team back to national prominence. I used to hate nailbiters between IU/UK but loved them at the same time. I see us winning this one but knowing in the back of my mind that you guys will be back soon. Good luck!

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/TTZB42CGF63MEWOYTSTNDG5P24 Michael

    I'm sorry, but this is going to be a blood bath. Who on IU would start for Kentucky? I can't stand Kentucky or that snake-oil salesman Calipari but I'd say that the 1% chance of an upset is pretty accurate. IU will soon compete with top-5 teams like Kentucky, but this is not the year.

  • Kelin Blab

    Michael I think Creek, Wateford and Rivers could start for Kentucky. Kentucky starts two point guards surely Creek could crack one of the two guard spots……

  • http://www.prinsportsblog.com BGleas

    It's still not UConn's home floor and environment. They still probably stayed in a NYC hotel the night before and from all accounts Kentucky had more fans there.

  • HoosierSmitty

    Great comments so far. I told my fellow teachers I'd do cartwheels through the hallway if we won on Saturday. They are going to hold me to it.

    But honestly, I just don't see how we can win this game…although it pains my heart to say it.

    If it is going to happen, here are my FIVE needs for tomorrow.

    FOUL TROUBLE: If we have a chance, we need to get Kentucky in foul trouble and keep their top guys off the court. Step in front of Wall and draw charges, and pray that Patterson gets overzealous when he goes against our smaller front line.

    3 POINT SHOOTING: If we go zone, Kentucky had better be missing. Assembly Hall is a little different than other venues, so that might help. We have to bury our attempts – no going 1-7.

    UNLIKELY STAR: Somebody outside of our big 3 – Jones, Watford, and Creek – need to have the game of his life. I don't care if it's Elston, Dumes, Pritchard, Rivers, anyone. Someone has to sneak up on Kentucky.

    FREE THROWS: We have to go old school on this one and hit more FTs than we let Kentucky attempt.

    TURNOVERS: Kentucky will turn the ball over and we have to take advantage while maintaining a sense of control on our end of the court.

    With that said – Go Hoosiers! I'll happily attempt those cartwheels.

    (Oh and congratulations to me on my 640th comment! – 360 more to go Kelin ! )

  • Kelin Blab

    Smitty as a fellow educator…I will join you in cartwheels…..Those over 1000 comments are strictly due to teaching 100% computer based subject…..

    Free Throws will be big tomorrow.
    For some odd reason I have tampered my expectations for tomorrows game and yet have a little “fan confidence” ……I think that unsung guy will be Elston or Rivers. Elston could pull patterson out of the lane which would help.

  • LexCatFan

    I’m a UK fan, and I just thought I’d drop all you Hoosiers a line and let you know that I really enjoyed reading these posts. It gets really old when people have no clue about the game and just use these things for trash talking. I hope we win tomorrow, but all of us who know this rivalry know that Assembly Hall will be rocking tomorrow. I personally would like to see Indiana bounce back to a top 10 team. I have family in Indiana, and they always talked smack if we lost to you guys, but the games were at least exciting. Tom Crean is a great guy and a great coach, and I know that in the next few years your program will be back where it belongs. I look forward to those matchups. Until then, I personally hope we beat you tomorrow, and that the rest of your season goes well for you.

  • cooper

    With all everyone has written and I've written about what needs to happen, I've become convinced it really only comes down to Mr. Wall. Looking at both teams he is the only game changer and the only player who can take the game over by himself. Everyone else on the court needs help to do so including Patterson. I'm more worried about him on the offensive boards than I am about him scoring alot on their own.

    If IU can have someone score 20 they can win if they keep Wall under 25. If not good luck

    Interesting on ESPN Barry Alvarez said the league would be pushing to add a 12th team sometime soon. I'd be interested to see who? I have no idea how it works if schools can just leave a conference or what

  • catcrawler

    You should worry about all three. UK by 12

  • catcrawler

    Dude don't hate. Once IU gets back in the top 15 (I'll give it 2 years) this rivalry will once again be magical. I loved the neutral games in Indy and Louisville.

  • Druid

    Big upset today……. IU by 4 72-68

  • HoosierSmitty

    Interesting.

    I'd rather boot Northwestern (the only private school), but that won't happen.

    I don't think we want 3 teams from one state.

    Could we raid the Big East for a team like Louisville or Cincinnati?
    Iowa State from the Big Twelve?

    To me, Iowa State seems like a feasible option. Louisville or Cincinnati might be a reach.

    Big Ten by State

    Indiana (2): Boilermakers, Hoosiers

    Iowa (1): Hawkeyes
    Wisconsin (1): Badgers
    Pennslyvania (1): Nittany Lions
    Minnesota (1): Gophers
    Illinois (2): Wildcats, Illini
    Michigan (2): Wolverines, Spartans
    Ohio (1): Buckeyes

  • cooper

    I was thinking Cincinnati too but Iowa State wouldn't be bad. They may not want to leave Big 12 Marquette doesn't play football so they are out. What about Memphis? They may jump at the chance to get in a real conference. Vanderbilt? They'd probably love to leave the SEC where they can't win. If they do go to 12 its time to change the name. I love the Big 10 but it doesn't make sense anymore to say Big 10

  • HoosierSmitty

    I guess Cincinnati is out too, because apparently there is a wrestling requirement in the Big Ten (read that on some of the ESPN posts).

    I thought about Memphis but couldn't bring myself to suggest them!

    Not to picky, but will the Big Ten ever consider two things?
    1.) Changing the name – I doubt it
    2.) Having a team in a state that isn't connected to the other states (i.e. Tennessee in Vandy or Memphis

    Iowa State makes sense, given the rivalry with Iowa, and the Big 12 could raid the WAC or Mountain West for a new team and someone would fill in the MW or WAC since they aren't incredibly strong conferences.

  • iudrew22

    Don't hate? lol…as an IU fan it is ingrained to hate PU and UK are you kidding me? :) I will always root against those two no matter who they are playing…that is what rivalries are all about…it would be boring if we all rooted for the same team…

  • HoosierSmitty

    I would see an East/West split along the Indiana/Illinois state line

    West – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Iowa State, Illinois, Northwestern
    East – Indiana, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State

    However, that puts the more traditionally strong football teams in one division with OSU, Mich, and PSU. But it's not always about football

  • HoosierSmitty

    If you went North/South

    I guess it would look like this:

    North
    Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin

    South
    Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, Ohio State, Penn State,

  • HoosierSmitty

    Thanks for the comments! I think everyone who follows/is a part of this site takes pride in having a little human decency.

    Hopefully it'll be a good game today.

  • IUMike

    Just a thought: Northwestern would be North while Iowa would be South in this scenario.

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