The Kentucky Wildcats’ players would probably have had a better Christmas if they had been able to beat UCLA instead of falling to the Bruins by eight points. Now the No. 16 Wildcats get to play their final non-conference game before the grind of the SEC season kicks in as they take on Louisville.
Here are UK's three keys to this one:
Win the battle of strengths
It is interesting that a game this deep into the non-conference schedule with the two teams combining for 19 total wins would be this important. Both Kentucky and unranked Louisville have gaudy records, but neither squad has beaten anyone of note during their early season games, with Louisville not even having an RPI top-100 win to their name.
The two teams, therefore, will be looking to their strengths to carry them in this matchup. Kentucky is the better offensive team – especially on the offensive boards and with assists –but Louisville is by far the better team defensively. It is the defense that has been the biggest problem for Kentucky so far this season, with the breakdowns against a bad UCLA team being all too obvious.
Whichever team is able to win the battle of their strongest sides of the ball will win the game.
A better all-round game from Kevin Knox
If Kentucky is to make any noise in March then a lot will depend on the development of Kevin Knox over the next three months. We all know that the freshman can score – he is the Wildcats leading scorer averaging 15.7 points per game – but he needs to provide way more as a total player for Kentucky to reach their seemingly limitless potential this season.
Knox has to be better on the offensive glass where he averages less than one board per game at that end of the floor. He also has to be more aggressive with the ball and stop checking his drive to take jump shots. We know he can hot them, but if he could get to the rim three or four more times a game then Kentucky would be a better team.
Knox also leads the team in turnovers, in large part because of the number of minutes he plays. Knox can be an outstanding college player, but he needs to start refining his game and be that all round threat against the Cardinals.
Avoid the block party
We mentioned Louisville’s defense as a key already, but it is worth breaking that down further and looking at one particular aspect of how the Cardinals have been so effective at stopping their opponents scoring.
Basically, they are blocking shots at a historic rate.
Ken Pomeroy is seen as the guru when it comes to advanced basketball analytics. He has one stat – one among many – that measures the rate of blocks against an opponents’ two-point attempts. This season Louisville is blocking 20.3 percent of such shots. That means that one in every five attempts taken inside the arc is tipped, deflected, or flat out rejected back into the face of an offensive player.
Pomeroy devised this stat for the 2001-02 season. The 2006-07 UConn team led by 7-foot-3 monster Hasheem Thabeet in the paint blocked 21 percent of their opponents’ shots. That is the sort of level at which the Cardinals are rejecting the ball. Kentucky cannot let this happen on Friday night.