The Cats get a shot at the Blackbirds on Black Friday. While most of us are at home nursing a full belly and enjoying the official start to Christmas season, many other brave souls battled the crowded big box stores for the deals of the year. If you did it, more power to you. I will pay more later on, to not be awake at an ungodly hour and hate every person standing near me.
Whether you camped out, set an alarm or never went to bed in the first place, hopefully you had a successful trip and can now begin to fully recover from your Turkey Day. Watching the Cats tonight will surely go a long way to getting back to normal.
PG: Archie Goodwin vs. Jason Brickman
Ryan Harrow is still figuring things out at the homestead, so Archie Goodwin will continue to start in his place, having considerable success outside of the “pure point guard” mold. There is arguably no one better on this team right now than Mr. Goodwin. He is playing with an aggression — on every possession — that the rest of the team has yet to figure out. He dropped 28 points against Morehead and made 12 of his 17 free throw attempts. While he can sometimes get out of control, that is easy to fix moving forward.
Long Island University has a tiny team up and down the starting lineup. And it starts with 6-foot guard Jason Brickman. But don’t let his diminutive size fool you. Like any good point guard, he can find his teammates with ease. Brickman is distributing nearly nine assists per game while still averaging 15 points. He plays a team-leading 38 minutes per game; so much like it went against Morehead on Wednesday, cutting the team off at the point guard position will go a long way to shutting the entire team down (more so than other teams that don’t rely as heavily on their point guard).
SG: Julius Mays vs. C.J. Garner
Julius Mays scored in double-figures for the first time all season, despite shooting a rather poor 2-of-7 from the field. He made up for it by going 6-for-7 from the free throw line and snatching three rebounds and a couple of assists. Perhaps Morehead was the jump starter game, and now Mays will really turn it on as an electric shooter from the perimeter.
At 5-foot-10, C.J. Garner must be used to being undersized. Somehow he is scoring 11 points per game and actually rebounding four per game. Julius Mays is just 6-foot-2, not a world-breaking height for a guard, but he will enjoy a considerable size advantage today. Garner will play aggressively, but will not take too many shots from the perimeter.
W: Alex Poythress vs. Brandon Thompson
Twenty points, eight rebounds, perfect from the charity stripe and 50 percent shooting from the field. What else can you ask of Alex Poythress right now? He and Archie Goodwin make this team go, and it is so fun to watch this kid play. He is going to keep getting better, and that should terrify a lot of teams out there.
The size advantage for Kentucky continues, as Poythress is going to have half a foot on opposing guard Brandon Thompson. At 6-foot-1, Thompson too must be used to going against bigger players. But Long Island head coach Jack Perri pushes a three-guard lineup, which makes this matchup difficult to predict. Thompson is an outside shooter who isn’t shooting particularly well this season, just 4-for-18 from behind the three-point line. The biggest threat to shoot from deep and the player with the hottest hand is point guard Jason Brickman.
F: Kyle Wiltjer vs. Julian Boyd
Feel bad for the Blackbirds. Kentucky has the twin towers of Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel. Combined, the two total nearly 14 feet tall. Well, LIU has mini-twin towers in their starting lineup, starting with 6-foot-7 forward Julian Boyd. Wiltjer is doing his thing offensively, but look for his defensive skill to improve dramatically or he will be seeing decreased minutes. Hopefully the size discrepancy will help matters.
Down in the low post is where the team does most of its damage. Julian Boyd can put up points, and he is averaging 18 points per game — second best on the team behind fellow forward Jamal Olasewere. His peers recognize the talent; Boyd was selected as the preseason Northeast Conference player of the year. So far this season, Boyd is shooting 59 percent of his two-point shots, but try as he might, hasn’t extended his range yet where he is 0-for-5 from outside.
C: Nerlens Noel vs. Jamal Olasewere
The offensive game of Nerlens Noel was quieted on Wednesday, as he missed a double-double by a single point with nine points and 11 boards. Some of the limelight was certainly stolen by Goodwin and Poythress, so Noel has a pardon. The rebounding effort was solid on his part, but as a team is still must improve considerably. Morehead hauled in 13 offensive rebounds — the same thing that did the Cats in against Maryland reared its ugly head again. It hardly matters what team you play, if you give the opponent that many second and sometimes third-chances at points; it makes it difficult to win.
Rounding out the undersized starting five is 6-foot-7 forward (not even calling him a center at that height) Jamal Olasewere. He is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with over 22 and seven respectively, but was held in check against the best big-man he has faced this season in Alex Len of Maryland at 16 points and five rebounds. Noel is 6-foot-10 and has a wingspan to double that. Olasewere will have a tough time scoring face-up against Noel.