While Kentucky has pure athleticism and raw talent on the floor, Indiana has some fairly even match-ups on paper. There may not be a single position you take an IU player straight up over one of UK’s, including the bench, but with Assembly Hall on their side, IU fans are feeling pretty confident about this one. Let’s see who will take the court first for the Cats and the Hoosiers.
PG: Marquis Teague vs. Jordan Hulls
We have seen flashes of brilliance from Teague this season, bouncing back from a god-awful start. His turnover-to-assist ratio still looks bad, but he is playing much improved basketball in the last several games. Teague doesn’t need to be great today for the Cats to win, he just can’t lose it for them either. Look for Teague to have a solid game getting to the rim and distributing the ball on mismatches.
Hulls is a seasoned veteran, and he can score if given space. He is scoring at a rather astounding 57%. This is particularly worrisome because of how well North Carolina – not a great jump shooting team – shot against Kentucky when allowed open looks. I expect Cal worked a lot in practice in closing the gaps between the three-point line. Hulls will likely sink some timely three’s, Kentucky just needs to make sure he doesn’t go off.
SG: Doron Lamb vs. Verdell Jones
With a very athletic Cody Zeller in the post who will challenge Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb needs to hit from outside. He started the season red-hot, but has since cooled. Lamb is still working a solid 14.4 ppg, but he’ll need to be more consistent than just the couple of three-pointers he’s been good for recently. I expect the Cats to do a lot of passing in the half-court to get a good post up in the paint, or a wide open shot from the corner.
Verdell Jones isn’t the shooter like Lamb is; in fact he is probably the worst player on the court for the Hoosiers. Aside from his ability to assist, Jones shouldn’t be a deciding factor in the scoring column. Where he will beat Kentucky is distributing the ball to Cody Zeller in the post. He is the team-leader in assists and could do the dirty work in creating open looks for his teammates.
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Victor Oladipo
Kidd-Gilchrist and Oladipo have very similar styles. But make no mistake about it; Kidd-Gilchrist is far and away the better player in this match-up. Look for Gilchrist to be his usual self, and that includes turning the ball over. But Kidd-Gilchrist will bring a lot to the table, scrambling for loose balls, rebounding, stealing the ball back, working fast breaks and most importantly, scoring – which he is doing at 12.1 ppg.
Oladipo will have a tough time holding Kidd-Gilchrist. He too has often been matched up against the opposing team’s best player. Problem is the opposing team has never been Kentucky. At 6-5, Oladipo isn’t going to score in the paint like he’s been able to against inferior competition, and if Kidd-Gilchrist is guarding him, I can’t imagine he’ll get too comfortable being able to shoot from the perimeter. Kidd-Gilchrist, like he usually does, has the potential to make Oladipo a complete non-factor.
PF: Terrence Jones vs. Christian Watford
The final score last season was a blow-out, but it’s worth noting Christian Watford held Terrence Jones in check throughout the game. Jones finished 3-of-11 on the floor and Watford picked up one of his best games of the young season, scoring 19. This time last year Jones was soft. Fortunately for Kentucky, he has since become an absolute monster. Jones should have a solid outing going against an under-matched Watford.
Watford hasn’t been great thus far for Indiana, but I don’t expect he’ll miss his season average of 10.4 ppg by too much. Watford hasn’t seen the drastic improvements from another year in college like Jones has, and he’ll have a tough time holding the Kentucky forward down inside. We could see a double-double from Jones pretty easily in this one.
C: Anthony Davis vs. Cody Zeller
Two freshmen, two future NBA all-stars. Davis will once again be matched up against a Zeller boy, and his overall length should lead him to a solid game. Davis will score at the rim using his quickness and lobs from the outside, and haul in plenty of offensive rebounds – something Indiana is having a tough time doing. Look for Davis’ swatted balls to head the other direction on a Cats fast break. A deciding factor for Davis will be keeping his feet planted on the ground, because Zeller likes to utilize pump fakes to draw fouls. If Davis finds himself in foul trouble early there’s no way Vargas can contain Zeller.
Zeller will have a hard time scoring over Davis’ reach, and because he is undersized in terms of pure unaltered athleticism, it’s hard to imagine Zeller will really burn the Cats inside. Zeller has post moves of his own, and plays very similarly to his brother Tyler of North Carolina, a significant advantage Davis has just coming off a game guarding him. We might see some double-team like the Cats employed successfully in the second-half against the Tar Heels.