After a long week of practice. Kentucky hits the road to play their first game away from Rupp Arena since opening up the season against Duke in Indianapolis. Today at high noon, the Wildcats will take the floor at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan to take on Seton Hall out of the Big East. Big Fox will be in town for the broadcast with Gus Johnson, Jim Jackson, and Andy Katz on the call.
It’s been a bit of a rocky start for the Pirates after five wins in eight games to start the year. It’s a full on rebuild year in New Jersey for this program after losing a huge part of the group that led the school to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Through one month, this appears to be on a team that will have to scratch and claw to finish over .500.
Nuts and Bolts
One of the original members of the Big East, this private school in Newark, New Jersey has made 12 NCAA Tournaments since 1988 including a national runner-up finish in 1989. The Pirates have had an impressive group of head coaches with Bill Raftery running the show from 1970-81 and P.J. Carlesiemo leading the program to six postseason appearances from 1987-94.
After a mediocre run in the early 2000s, Seton Hall hired Kevin Willard in 2010 and he’s gotten the Pirates back to their winning ways. Under Willard, Seton Hall has made three NCAA Tournaments in eight seasons including a 2016 Big East Tournament title. The former Rick Pitino assistant at Louisville and Iona head coach is now the second winningest coach in program history.
This will be the third ever meeting between Kentucky and Seton Hall with both programs owning one victory. Both previous meetings occurred in the 80s. UK defeated Seton Hall in the UKIT in 1981 and Seton Hall returned the favor at the Great Alaska Shootout in 1988.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is a 6.5 point favorite with a total of 146. That’s a projected score around 77-70. On the year, Kentucky is 3-5 against the spread with four straight unders hitting. Seton Hall is 4-4 against the number with the under going 6-2 t0 start this early season campaign.
Seton Hall has one of the premier scorers in college basketball this season in Myles Powell and he’s has been electric to start the season. The junior from Trenton, New Jersey was named the Most Improved Player in the Big East last season when he averaged 15.5 points per game and he’s built on that strong year this season. Through eight games, Powell is averaging 22.4 points per game on a .454 shooting percentage.
The combo guard has already knocked down 24 three-pointers, is playing nearly 35 minutes per game, and is getting to the free throw line over six times per game. When he gets there he is hitting at a .887 percent clip. He’s a a bucket getter.
Joining him in the starting backcourt is Sacred Heart transfer Quincy McKnight. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard brings a lot of athleticism to the table and is this team’s defensive stopper. On the wing, Myles Cale rolls with the ones and he is this starting unit’s fifth option.
Off the bench, freshman Anthony Nelson backs up both guard spots while Jared Rhoden is the only other wing that sees minutes. This is not a deep group.
Seton Hall is a one-headed monster in the backcourt and if you can stop Myles Powell things can get ugly for the Pirates.
Michael Nzei starts at the four for Seton Hall and the senior is second on the team in scoring and brings some much needed athleticism to the frontcourt. The 6-foot-8, 205-pound big is an important piece to this basketball team, but the five right next to him is the man to know in the frontcourt.
Sandro Mamukelashvili hails from Georgia (the country, not the state) after playing his prep ball at powerhouse Montverde Academy. The sophomore leads the team in rebounding and is very good at protecting the rim. The 6-foot-10 big provides this lineup with some much needed size. He even has show an ability to stretch the floor even though he’s off to a very cold shooting start to begin the season.
The only other big receiving double-digit minutes is sophomore Taurean Thompson. In a limited sample size, the Syracuse transfer has been very ineffective. Seton Hall is very thin in the frontcourt and if Mamukelashvili gets in foul trouble they are in really big trouble despite having some nice size versatility.
Keys to Victory
- Last week, Ashton Hagans stepped up to put the clamps on UNC Greensboro’s Francis Alonso after a very hot start. Today, Kentucky will be going up against another very effective perimeter scorer. Myles Powell can get white hot (40 points in a win over Grand Canyon) and does a great job in scoring in a multitude of ways. If he gets rolling he can carry a team to victory. Kentucky must slow him down. Do that and the Wildcats should cruise to an easy victory.
- Taking care of the basketball has been a struggle for this young UK team and you better believe Seton Hall is going to try and exploit that weakness. UK is turning it over on 21% of their possessions and Willard’s squad is one of the best at forcing takeaways. Seton Hall will use a press, junk zones, and pressure man-to-man to attempt to confuse a young UK backcourt. Kentucky must be careful with the ball and make sure that Seton Hall doesn’t gain a significant possession advantage.
- Seton Hall enters this contest as one of the worst three-point shooting teams in Division I. The Pirates are hitting just .297 percent of their shots from behind the arc on the year. Kentucky’s three-point defense has been a liability this season, but it has begun to improve in recent games. The Cats must contain the dribble drive and not get lost on help defense. Be in your correct spots and it should be another long day for Seton Hall from deep.