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Basketball Season Coverage

WATCH: Kenny Payne, Reid Travis, and Ashton Hagans preview Missouri

The Kentucky basketball team has moved on from their victory over Tennessee and is ready for their matchup with Missouri this evening.

Yesterday afternoon, UK assistant coach Kenny Payne, forward Reid Travis, and guard Ashton Hagans broke down the team’s matchup with the Tigers and what fans can expect this evening.

Kenny Payne talked about winning the SEC, Calipari silencing the crowd, getting over the Tennessee game, and why he’s impressed with Missouri.

Reid Travis discussed whether or not he actually gets an IV after games, how excited he was to beat Tennessee, and how he’s handling the end-of-year grind as a fifth-year senior.

Ashton Hagans talked about getting his braces off, whether he pouts like Kenny Payne says he does, and his increased defensive intensity.


5 things to know about the Missouri Tigers

5 things to know about the Missouri Tigers

1. The two players that Kentucky will be focusing the scouting report on for Missouri are Jordan Geist and Jeremiah Tilmon. Geist is a 6’2″, 180 senior who has really broken out this year, nearly doubling his scoring and improving most others. He’s the Tigers’ leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, to go along with 4.7 rebounds, a team-leading 3.1 assists, and one steal per game. Geist shoots 36.1% from three on the season. The senior plays with a lot of hustle and a bit of an edge to him. Sometimes that edge is a bit much, as he was T’ed up against the Cats last season for getting into it with Jarred Vanderbilt. In the frontcourt, Tilmon is the best big on the squad, standing at 6’10” and 252 pounds. The sophomore is averaging 10.9 points, a team-leading 5.7 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per contest. Tilmon won’t venture away from the paint a ton on offense, having attempted just one three in two seasons at Missouri, but he’s definitely improving as a mid-range threat. He’s shooting 71.4% from the free throw line, a massive improvement on his 52.6% from the charity stripe last season.

2. Despite what Coach Cal tried to build up to the media over the past few days to entice his players to not overlook Missouri, the Tigers’ woes this season are pretty easy to locate. Teetering on the verge of a losing record overall, and sporting a 3-9 SEC record, Missouri may be a team that has packed it in for the year. The Tigers are last in the SEC in scoring (295th in the country), last in the SEC in assists (324th in the country), and last in the SEC in assist to turnover ratio (330th in the country) with the second-most turnovers in the conference. Without a dominant post presence outside of Tilmon, they’ve struggled on the boards too, ranking 12th in the SEC in rebounding. The bright spot for the Tigers is that they can stroke from beyond the three-point arc, ranking third in SEC in three-point percentage and and fifth in total threes made. Although, they do struggle when scoring from anywhere but the three-ball, ranking 12th in overall shooting percentage in the SEC, 13th in field goals made, and 13th in free throws made.

3. Part of the blame for the struggles for Missouri is that the Tigers have caught the injury bug with some key players this season. Most notably, returning sophomore Jontay Porter’s season ended before it even began. The Tigers had a closed-door scrimmage in the preseason against Southern Illinois on October 21st, just 16 days before the first game of the regular season, which ended with Porter tearing both his ACL and MCL. Porter was going to be one of the best players in the Southeastern Conference this season, after choosing to pull out of the NBA Draft. After averaging nearly 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while shooting over 36% from three last season, Porter’s 6’11” and 240 pound body was NBA ready, but he chose to stay at Missouri. On top of the loss of Porter, the Tigers’ second-best scorer, Mark Smith, missed six straight games in SEC play due to an ankle injury. Smith just returned from that injury this past Saturday, but was clearly not back to 100%, playing just 14 minutes off the bench. Missouri needs Smith back healthy ASAP if they hope to make any sort of run in the SEC Tournament to try to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

4. When Missouri started the season 3-3, Head Coach Cuonzo Martin was still tinkering with how to play without their stud big-man. The Tigers got hot to finish out their non-conference schedule, winning all six of their games in the month of December to begin SEC play with a 9-3 record. Unfortunately for Missouri, starting conference play meant that the winning ways were coming to a close in a hurry. The Tigers lost six of their first seven games against teams from the Southeastern Conference, with the sole win coming at Texas A&M. Missouri certainly plays better at home than outside of Mizzou Arena, but the improvement hasn’t lead to a big change in the win column. Now sitting at just 12-12 on the season, the Tigers have all but burst their own bubble and chances of making the NCAA Tournament.

5. Of all the teams in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky has played Missouri the least amount, with just twelve total meetings between the two schools in the all-time series. The Cats lead the series 11-1 overall and they’re 7-1 in the John Calipari era. The only loss in the series for Kentucky actually came just over a year ago, as the Tigers held the Cats to just 31% shooting from the field and 2 of 20 from three in Columbia to get the 69-60 victory. Kentucky would later avenge that loss, as three weeks later, the Cats torched the Tigers for a 21-point win in Rupp Arena. Outside of last season’s loss, Kentucky has dominated since Cal took over at UK. The average margin of victory in the Calipari era is over 20 points per Wildcat win over the Tigers. The games at Mizzou Arena have been a tad closer, with UK’s three wins coming by an average of 10 points. Stemming from that point, the spread for tonight’s game, as of late last night, was UK -11. In reality, the Cats should be able to cover that with ease if they play anywhere remotely close to the level they played against Tennessee on Saturday.

Go Cats. Beat Tigers.


Scouting Report: Missouri Tigers

Scouting Report: Missouri Tigers

Fresh off the statement win over Tennessee this past weekend, the Wildcats will hit the road to play a familiar foe. It’s been a rough second season in Columbia for Cuonzo Martin, but the Tigers do have some young talent on the roster. The Tigers are out of the running for an NCAA Tournament bid, but they’ll be looking to play spoiler as they continue to get their young players reps.

Kentucky has performed very well all season on the road and that is shown by their 6-1 record in true road games. After two monstrous home games against the other SEC championship contenders, a potential hangover game could be looming for the Wildcats in the late night tip. Can UK avoid a slip up?

Nuts and Bolts

Following a short playing career in the NBA, Cuonzo Martin returned to his alma mater to serve in an assistant role under both Gene Keady and Matt Painter at Purdue. After a successful three-year head coaching run at Missouri State that included a regular season Missouri Valley Conference title and two postseason appearances, Tennessee came calling following the dismissal of Bruce Pearl.

Martin was in Knoxville for three seasons and collected 63 wins with a Sweet 16 appearance and a top-10 KenPom finish in 2014. However, he was never fully embraced by the Rocky Top faithful and made the move to Berkeley to run the Cal program. There he would have a similar run as the one at Tennessee that included 62 wins and once NCAA Tournament appearance. After three years, he was on the move again.

Martin took the head coaching position at Mizzou prior to the 2017-2018 season and immediately made a splash. The Tigers landed the services of Michael Porter Jr. and his brother Jontay. They were immediately considered an SEC contender. However, injuries plagued the team all year and the Tigers would bow out in the Round of 64.

In year two it has been a total rebuild that is clearly shown in Mizzou’s 12-12 overall record. The Tigers were hit with a blow in the preseason when Jontay Porter was ruled out for the season. The young team has gotten exposed in SEC play and now they are playing for the future. This year, the shorthanded Tigers live and die by the three-point shot. They have struggled to find consistency at point guard and their bigs have been unable to protect the paint. It’s been another long season for this program. This has been an unfortunate regular occurrence for the Tigers since joining the SEC.

This will be the 13th meeting between the two programs with Kentucky leading the all-time series by a count of 11-1. Since joining the SEC, Mizzou is 1-7 against Kentucky with the last five losses occurring by double-digits. Overall, Cuonzo Martin is 2-5 against Kentucky during his head coaching career.

Out in the desert, Kentucky is an 11.5 point favorite with a total of 135. That’s a projected final score around 73-62. On the season, Kentucky is 14-10-1 against the spread while Missouri is 9-12-3. In SEC play, Mizzou is 4-7-1 against the number while UK is 7-4-1. UK is 5-1-1 against the spread in true road games this season. Mizzou is 3-2-1 against the number as a home dog this season.

Backcourt Breakdown

Last year graduate transfer Kassius Robertson did a lot for the Tigers. The former Canisius guard logged a ton of minutes and was Mizzou’s go-to-guy when Michael Porter Jr. was ruled out of the lineup. His departure has unexpectedly set Mizzou back this season. This was not something many were anticipating.

Mizzou has used multiple players to fill the point guard spot and it’s been a roller coaster to say the least. In SEC play, the Tigers rank 14th in turnover percentage and 11th in assist rate. Mizzou is coughing the rock up on nearly a quarter of their possessions and that has made this one of the most inefficient offenses in the SEC.

The main weapon in the backcourt is senior Jordan Geist and the former junior college guard is giving this program everything he has. The guard starred at Ranger College playing for Billy Gillispie before making the switch to Division I. In 2018-2019, he’s having a career year in his third season in Columbia. Geist leads the team in minutes, three-pointers made, and free throws attempted. He’s putting up over 14 points per game to go along with 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists. He won’t back down from the moment.

Playing alongside Geist in the backcourt is true freshman Javon Pickett and the rookie from the Chicago area was a top-300 recruit out of high school. He’s the program’s future at the two-spot, but this has been a year full of growing pains. The rookie is shooting under 40 percent from the field and has more turnovers than assists.

On the wing, former UK recruiting target and Illinois transfer Mark Smith has been this team’s outside specialist. The Illinois native has been an excellent floor spacer for the Tigers shown by having 104 shots from three and only 54 from two-point range. The Tigers were without Smith for six games in SEC play and that desperately costed UM. The wing ranks 20th in the nation in three-point shooting percentage (.471) and will need to be on the floor for Mizzou to have a fighting chance.

Off the bench, two more freshmen are used for the Tigers. Xavier Pinson and Torrence Watson have combined to attempt over 130 three-pointers and have played a lot this season. Pinson might actually be Mizzou’s best option at point while Watson is an energy player at this stage of his career.

Mizzou has a gutsy senior surrounded by a bunch of young pieces who are cutting their teeth in power conference basketball. It’s no surprise to see this team going through obvious growing pains this season.

Frontcourt Breakdown

In October, sophomore Jontay Porter was lost for the season after tearing both his ACL and MCL in a scrimmage. It totally changed the outlook for this year’s team and made Mizzou play without a potential lottery pick and All-SEC performer. With it, Mizzou put a lot more pressure on sophomore five-man Jeremiah Tilmon.

The 6-foot-10 and 252-pound sophomore is a large body and a key cog to Mizzou’s post offense. The East St. Louis native is shooting 57.1 percent from the field on his way to 10.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. On the defensive end, however, he has struggled to protect the paint. Foul trouble has been an issue for Tilmon his entire career and he’s fouled out of eight games this season. He just cannot stay on the floor.

Next to Tilmon, Kevin Puryear has stepped into a starting role for the loss of Jontay Porter. The undersized big provides Mizzou with solid rebounding but not much else. Off the bench, Reed Nikko has been used a lot due to Tilmon’s foul trouble issues and he brings size to the lineup (6-foot-10, 250 pounds).

Keys to Victory

  • Kentucky will enter Mizzou Arena the much more talented and accomplished team. The Tigers are well on their way to a losing season while the Wildcats are playing for a one-seed. From the jump, Kentucky must bring the juice. Mizzou is a wounded team who could be taken out early with a fast start. Facing a team that can get hot from three, you don’t want to let this kind of underdog hang around.
  • On the defensive end, Mizzou struggles to protect the paint. Opponents are shooting 51 percent from two-point range against the Tigers and they have no shot blockers to contest action at the basket. It should be a great opportunity for UK’s bigs. For Reid Travis, this could be a game where he could get multiple buckets on the block and leads the team in scoring.
  • One way for Kentucky to get out to a healthy early lead would be to force some turnovers. Mizzou has major point guard issues and they’ve been turning the ball over at an alarming rate. Ashton Hagans could have a big day forcing havoc on defense and creating fast break opportunities for UK’s offense.
  • Both Kentucky and Mizzou’s offense prefer to play at a slower pace. So this could be a low scoring affair. Don’t be surprised if UK limits their seventh conference foe to 55 points or less.

What the…???

Back in 2012, things were looking up in the Show Me State when Mizzou announced they were leaving the Big XII for the SEC. The fans, as expected, seemed pretty excited and that joy was not just present in gridiron expectations. The Tigers were fresh off a 30-5 season in 2012 with a Big XII tournament championship. Expectations were very high with the Tigers having “faith in Haith”.

Well, Mizzou’s basketball run in the league has been about as ugly as that song and music video. The Tigers are are 41-79 in SEC play since joining the conference with only two NCAA Tournament appearances and zero tournament wins. Mizzou is on their third head coach since realignment and just can’t seem to get out of their own way on the hardwood.

Here’s to hoping this once proud program can return to respectability in basketball.


Relive Kentucky’s Win over Tennessee with “The Journey”

Relive Kentucky’s Win over Tennessee with “The Journey”

Beating Tennessee felt great.  It feels even better after watching the latest installment of “The Journey.”

KyWildcatsTV goes above and beyond in each behind-the-scenes feature. This week is no exception.  Before you start preparing for Kentucky’s Super Tuesday matchup with Missouri, you have to relive the destruction of the top-ranked team in America at Rupp Arena.

LIVE: Kenny Payne previews Missouri

Kentucky associate head coach Kenny Payne is about to meet with reporters to preview tomorrow’s game vs. Missouri. Tune in below courtesy of KyWildcatsTV, or check the site shortly after for a recap.