The Kentucky Wildcats travel to Athens, Georgia tonight to take on the Bulldogs. And the Cats are in the driver’s seat of college basketball as the newly-crowned No. 1 team in the nation. Georgia, on the other hand, is in 11th place in the SEC, and has suffered four of its nine losses at home. These teams are on completely different wavelengths. Two telling stats for comparison: Georgia is scoring a ridiculously low 62 points, and only hauling in 33 rebounds per game; while Kentucky is scoring near the top of the NCAA at almost 80 points, and collecting 40 rebounds per game. Does Georgia have a chance in this one? Barely. But this is the first sell-out of the season in Stageman Coliseum, so the Georgia fans will surely be out in full force rooting for an upset. That’s the Kentucky Effect for you.
Note: This is my projected lineup. Georgia has been shifting players all over the floor, so this could be completely wrong by game time. Don’t sue me.
Georgia (10-9, 1-4 SEC)
vs. Top-25: 0-1
Best wins: vs. Notre Dame
Bad losses: at Colorado, vs. Georgia Tech
Kentucky (19-1, 5-0 SEC)
vs. Top-25: 3-1
Best wins: vs. Kansas, vs. North Carolina
Bad losses: None
PG: Marquis Teague vs. Dustin Ware
Marquis Teague will need to look to distribute the ball down low early and often, because the slightly undersized Georgia big men will have a tough time guarding Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. If Teague can get into a rhythm of slicing into the lane and finishing himself — which he has been doing a very good job of recently — or dishing off to an open Davis or Jones when the help defense collapses, the Cats should have no problem racking it up. Dustin Ware is the senior point guard for Georgia and has a lot of experience playing against elite Kentucky guards. He’s not a shooting threat only averaging a little over seven points per game, but he can hurt you in lots of little ways. He doesn’t make mistakes; his game plan seems to be slowly chipping away at his defender to work the ball around the perimeter. He’s a specialist at the free throw line, if nothing else; he’s making 91% of his free throws.
SG: Darius Lamb vs. Gerald Robinson
Coach Cal has had Doron Lamb coming off the bench the last several games, and it seems likely the trend will continue. Both Lamb and Darius Miller will have plenty of minutes in the two-spot, and both should be able to handle Gerald Robinson defensively. The three point shooting of this Kentucky team flows through Lamb and Miller, and they hopped on a hot streak early in the game last week against Alabama, hopefully we can see that continue tonight, because if deep shots are falling for Kentucky, no one beats them. Robinson is Georgia’s second leading-scorer, averaging just less than 14 points per game. He’s not a major threat to hit from outside, but prefers to score in the lane and create in transition. Note: Robinson and Ware are both “technically” point guards, and either could be matched up on Teague (Robinson actually averages more assists per game), but because Robinson is more of a scorer, I bumped him down to the two.
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
This is the best matchup of hyphenated names on the floor, without a doubt. Also, two stud freshman and two of the best players on their respective teams to boot. This has prime-time written all over it! Caldwell-Pope averages about 15 points per game, and is fresh off his career-high of 25 against Ole Miss. If there’s one seriously dangerous player on the floor for Georgia it’s this kid. He is a stud, and ranks right up there with Jarnell Stokes and Kentucky’s squad as some of the best diaper dandies in the SEC. Not so fast my friend! Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (as if you needed me to tell you) has a thing or two going for him as well. For one, Kidd-Gilchrist will be able to utilize his size advantage, which is significant against Caldwell-Pope. Muscle him around — which I doubt he’s had much experience against looking at Georgia’s schedule — and see if he cracks. It’s hard to predict what kind of night either of these young players will have. But I’m sure it’ll be exciting.
PF: Terrence Jones vs. Nemania Djurisic
Everyone’s favorite Terrence Jones will certainly be looking for a big game – or at least one which continues his rebound from the “Indiana slump” – tonight. I love Terrence Jones and want him to succeed beyond expectations, and I have an itching suspicion that a breakout game is coming soon. It’s been building up ever since he’s come back from the pinky injury and tonight might just be the night. Kentucky doesn’t need gaudy numbers from Jones to win a National Championship, but he can do it, and it won’t hurt if he does. Going up against this Georgia player, whose name I refuse to type any more than I have to, seems like a well-balanced matchup, but one Jones could really use to boost his confidence. Georgia head coach Mark Fox has just recently inserted him into the starting lineup, but last time out left much to be desired as Djurisic struggled to score on Ole Miss, a team with nowhere near as much talent under the rim as Kentucky. Terrence Jones + Anthony Davis tag team going hard in the paint.
C: Anthony Davis vs. Donte Williams
Anthony Davis is coming off one of his quieter games of the season last week against Alabama where he was outmatched in terms of physicality. Georgia is not as intimidating by any means, so look for Davis is return to his ungodly ways. Davis is the tallest player on the floor, and Georgia’s guards are nearly fun-size compared to most teams, so to say they’ll have a tough time scoring in the paint over Davis would be a vast understatement. Anthony Davis will do what Anthony Davis wants to do, and that’s being a beast. Donte Williams is in his second year with the Georgia Bulldogs and hasn’t really developed beyond what he produced in his freshman season. He is averaging a modest eight points and five rebounds per game. I don’t want to say Williams is a bad player, but in the shadow of The Brow everyone is.