Kentucky got away with a 73-63 win on Friday night in a sloppy and mistake-filled opener against Utah Valley. We were wondering coming in how the youth of the Wildcats squad would play out and there seemed to be some stage fright involved as they struggled against a team they were far better than in terms of talent. It’s a super quick turnaround now to take on Vermont on Sunday.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Start the game better
It is fair to say that John Calipari has the pulse of this team spot on. In his postgame press conference, the Kentucky coach talked about how the early going this season would be about survival. Calipari knows that his team is young and mistake prone, he also knows that if they want to build a strong resume for the NCAA Tournament then there are going to be games like this one that they have to gut their way through.
The main problem on Friday was that the Wildcats were just bad at shooting the ball in the first half. Against Vermont, Kentucky will have to shoot better than the 20.6-percent from the field that they managed against Utah Valley. The talent is there – most of the misses in this period weren’t on terrible shots – but on Sunday Calipari will need to see more of the chances around the rim fall in.
Play above your age
With Kentucky being so young, there will be times this season where the Wildcats play teams that are vastly more experienced. This is what they will face on Sunday against Vermont.
The Catamounts return four starters – four rested starters at that – from a team that finished ninth in the country in field goal percentage last season. Trae Bell-Haynes, Payton Henson, Anthony Lamb and Ernie Duncan were part of the crew that shot almost 50-percent from the field (49.4-percent) a year ago. Lamb is the main threat as he averaged 12.4 ppg, but this is a balanced and effective shooting team that doesn’t take (and miss) bad shots. That will be a problem if Kentucky continues to shoot so poorly.
Come ready to play
Utah Valley was a gimme game that the Wildcats struggled to win. This matchup with the Catamounts is a different beast entirely.
Vermont won 29 games last season before battling Purdue to a 10 point loss in the NCAA Tournament. Their “core four” of players listed above can propel this team into a competitive contest with Kentucky, even at Rupp Arena. Head coach John Becker is the reigning America East Coach of the Year and if the Wildcats find themselves looking ahead to a date with Kansas in Chicago on Tuesday then this Vermont squad is more than capable of springing a major surprise (in name value at least) with a win over their SEC hosts.