After blitzing Monmouth on Wednesday night, Kentucky returns to the hardwood this afternoon for their second toughest challenge of the season to this point. With the month of December finally here, we’re about to learn a lot about the 2017-18 Kentucky Wildcats.
UNC Greensboro currently sits at 7-1 on the year with their only loss occurring against LSU on the road by six points. The Spartans are the heavy favorite to win the SoCon this season and they are putting up points in bunches. UNCG has scored at least 80 points in six of their eight games and will be one of the most efficient offenses UK will see all season. Today will be a true challenge for the Wildcats.
For the second game in a row, the head coach on the visiting sidelines is a former North Carolina point guard. Wes Miller is in his eighth season at Greensboro and the Spartans are fresh off consecutive regular season conference titles. Last season, Miller reached his first NCAA Tournament as a head coach with the Spartans winning 27 games before losing to Gonzaga in the Round of 64. The Greensboro native will turn 36 next month and is a rising star in the coaching ranks.
UNCG has been to three NCAA Tournaments and has just eight conference titles in school history. The school did not allow male students in until the 1965-66 school year and didn’t become a Division I program until the 1990s. The Spartans made their first tournament in 1996 and are currently on the best run in program history under Wes Miller.
Francis Alonso is a senior from Spain who is the program’s all-time leader in three-pointers made. He sets the tone for this high scoring offense.
The playmaking guard leads the team in free throw attempts. From the charity stripe, he is hitting above a 90 percent rate. The combo guard is pouring in nearly half of his three point attempts and is second on the team in assists. He is an excellent basketball player.
Fellow senior Demetrius Troy runs the offense from the lead guard spot and he has an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio. The Raleigh, North Carolina native sets up everyone first, but can consistently hit shots from deep. Joining him in the backcourt is Malik Massey as UNCG runs a three-guard offense most of the time. However, Massey doesn’t stay in the lineup long because of what Wes Miller has coming off the bench.
Isaiah Miller ranks 13th in the NCAA in steals in addition to providing this lineup with instant offense. The Georgia native is second on the team in scoring and has a very efficient .578 shooting percentage. He is not much of a threat from the outside, but is a terrific athlete. The six-foot guard is a slasher who has the athleticism to make shots over size. Add that with his defensive prowess and he’s an integral piece for this UNC Greensboro squad.
UNCG has some size on their squad, but they want to play pace-and-space. To do that you need an effective stretch four. They have that in Kyrin Galloway.
The junior from Georgia is putting up 13.9 points per game and is hitting over 60 percent of his shot attempts. The 6-foot-8 big is hitting treys at a .459 clip and is key to creating the space UNCG’s guards need to make plays off the bounce. UK has yet to see a four that can stretch the floor like Galloway this season.
In the post, James Dickey controls the paint and leads the team in rebounds at over eight boards per outing. Outside of dunks and lay-ups, Dickey is not much of a threat on offense but he does most of his damage on the defensive end.
The 6-foot-10 big ranks fourth in UNCG program history in blocks and he has 17 in just eight games to start the season. UK’s bigs and drivers will be challenged at the rim. Getting him out of the game will be essential to creating easy scoring opportunities for the Kentucky offense.
Keys to Victory
- The Spartans are easily the best offensive team Kentucky has seen since the embarrassing loss against Duke. After two games against some very inferior offenses, UK’s defensive flaws will be exposed against UNCG if they have not improved. The Wildcats must have some rim protection to help eliminate drives and communicate while guarding against a very savvy offense.
- UK’s bread-and-butter is to get its bigs touches on the block, but James Dickey will be a problem in the paint. The lanky big is an excellent shot blocker and he’ll present quite the challenge. UK must attack his body and look for contact. If he gets in foul trouble UNCG will be in trouble. Greensboro’s defense will want to funnel everything inside to Dickey. Kentucky will get plenty of open perimeter looks. They must knock them down.
- The one thing UK’s defense has done well all season is guarding without fouling, but today will be a totally different challenge. UNCG is tremendous at earning free throw attempts and knocking them down. The Spartans are hitting just under 70 percent as a team and if the right guys get to the stripe they can make you pay. UK must be smart in who they challenge at the rim. Silly fouls like out of control charges and reach ins 30-plus feet away from the basket cannot happen. Kentucky must keep UNCG out of the bonus for as long as possible.
- The biggest threat Kentucky’s offense has been their offensive rebounding. On the year, UK ranks first in Division I at collecting boards on 45.9% of their misses. They must dominate this phase once again.