In lieu of another WhatIfSports.com prediction post — as I have done every Friday since the football season began, much to the dismay of many hardcore football fans — I have decided to run with basketball today. Not because either should (or will) be a good game with the Cats playing Samford and Lafayette respectively, but because basketball is just more fun for us all.
Very quickly, the football Cats are projected to win 39-8, and WIS gives the team a 95% chance of victory. Pretty solid. Not much else to say playing an FCS team. There, I did it.
Now, let’s meet your starting lineups tonight against the Lafayette Leopards.
PG: Archie Goodwin vs. Tony Johnson
Down in Atlanta, Archie Goodwin got the start at point in place of Ryan Harrow who stayed home in Lexington nursing a mysterious illness. As a pure ball player, he did not disappoint. As a point guard, he left much to be desired. That is to be expected, however. He is a born scorer meant to play the game selfishly, which in this case is a compliment. He played 37 minutes against Duke scoring 16 points in highlight-reel fashion. He also yanked down six rebounds, second-most on the team.
Tonight he will match up against Tony Johnson, a 6-foot senior guard who has grown into a team leader, serving as the Leopards co-captain for the second straight season. He is a strong defender who can run the offense blindfolded. Last season Johnson battled injury and only started in ten games. He averaged eight points and over five assists per game. He collected 19 steals compared to just 15 turnovers.
SG: Julius Mays vs. Joey Ptasinski
Archie Goodwin moves up to the point, so that means Julius Mays — typically first off the bench — will be first into the starting lineup. Mays has been quiet in his first two games as a Wildcat, dropping 14 points between Maryland and Duke. But he is contributing solid minutes and bringing a veteran presence to the court. Mays is known for his three-point shooting ability but has only thrown up seven shots so far, hitting three. The Duke defense was stingy and didn’t allow much room on the perimeter, so let’s see if Mays can find a little room tonight to knock down a few treys.
The sophomore Joey Ptasinski is a shooter, plain and simple. When he gets space and the ball in his hands, he’s going up with it. As a freshman Ptasinski played in 22 games, averaging 20 minutes before an ankle injury ended his season. He averaged just less than six points per game, but shot nearly 46% from beyond the arc, which ranked him third in the Patriot League.
W: Alex Poythress vs. Seth Hinrichs
Alex Poythress is a man. We knew his wake-up call would come sooner than later; boy did it come against Duke. Poythress put his dunkface on more than one occasion as he slammed put-back dunks down all over the Blue Devils, helping to contribute to his 20 points on the night in 37 minutes. He grabbed eight boards, tied for the team lead with Nerlens Noel, and five of them were offensive — leading to a few of those nasty put-backs. Poythress was a key ingredient to that late comeback charge that saw the Cats narrow a once 14-point deficit back to down one possession. If he plays with that kind of motor all the time, the Cats will likely enter one of those “can never lose” modes.
Poythress will face off against the versatile contributer Seth Hinrichs. He, like many of his teammates, relies on the outside shot to be his money-maker. As a freshman last season, Hinrichs played in 31 games and started in 19. He averaged 8.5 points and shot a little better than 46% from three-point land, ranking him second-best in the Patriot League. At 6-foot-7, 214 pounds he isn’t vastly undersized going against the Cats wing, but in terms of pure-blood athleticism, it’s going to be hard to match up to Poythress.
F: Kyle Wiltjer vs. Levi Giese
What Wiltjer did against Maryland in the season opener — dropping 19 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three — he did not against Duke. Wiltjer finished with five points on 2-of-5 from the floor. He did dish out four assists, so his mind was still in the game, but the Cats did not utilize the strongest asset in their versatile forward. In the same vein and Julius Mays getting some open looks, hopefully Wiltjer will see a few buckets drop from behind the arc to get comfortable once again.
Levi Giese is in the similar mold as Wiltjer, a forward with good perimeter skills who has played most of his career coming off the bench. As a junior last season, Giese averaged just three points per game, but in his limited time on the court, he put up shots from behind the three-point line. The Leopards live and die by the three point shot.
C: Nerlens Noel vs. Dan Trist
Nerlens Noel shocked a lot of people with his play against Duke. He played a team-high 38 minutes against one of the better big men he will face all season long in Mason Plumlee and he did just as he was asked. He rebounded the basketball and stayed out of foul trouble. And he scored buckets. Who says Noel is limited offensively? The dude can flat-out play, and it seems like he may be progressing a lot faster than Coach Calipari or anybody else figured.
Part of the reason Lafayette relies so heavily on the outside shooting game is because they are relatively undersized inside. Trist has some girth at 6-foot-9, 230 points, but Noel has an inch, and a jumping ability that no one else on this earth possesses, combined with a wingspan that nearly doubles his height. Not to discredit Trist, because he dropped a career-high 30 points in a 98-94 double-OT victory over Long Island earlier in the week. But Noel, for the most part, was able to get the better of Plumlee and Duke. So expect him to dominate the Leopards in the paint.