1. Fashionably late to the party
The leading scorer for the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights this season is Xzavier Malone-Key. Malone-Key is averaging 20.3 points per game, to go along with 3.7 assists, and 2.3 rebounds. He’s hit 6 of his 17 threes for just over 35%, as well as 72.4% of his free throws. The bad news for the Knights is that Malone-Key missed the first four games of the season, but his late arrival has been a welcome sight for the FDU offense.
In the three games that Malone-Key has played, he’s been the leading scorer twice, and is consistently improving. His season debut resulted in 15 points and 5 assists against Lafeyette, while his second game had 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Most recently, Malone-Key went off for 29 points, including the game winning free throw, and 3 assists in the win over Quinnipiac.
2. Lack of size, abundance of shooters
While we all know that the Kentucky front-court is as thin as it has been in years with the Nate Sestina injury, the Knights may be even thinner. The three biggest players on the Fairleigh Dickinson roster this season stand at 6’8″, 6’10” and 6’11”, but none of the three plays more than 6 minutes per game. Kaleb Bishop and Elyjah Williams are the lone front court options that play significant minutes for FDU, standing at 6’8″ and 6’7″ respectively.
While Fairleigh Dickinson will be starting and playing mostly a very undersized team, they work to make up for that by putting a variety of shooters on the floor. The Knights have five contributing players who are making more than 34% of their deep balls on the season. Almost every single player that gets on the floor is at least a threat to step away from the basket and make shots on the perimeter.
3. First tournament win in school history
Appearing in just their sixth NCAA Tournament game in the history of the program, Fairleigh Dickinson was able to win the play-in game over Prairie View A&M last season for their first ever NCAA Tournament win. While that may have been last season, the Knights return three of their top five players from last year onto this season’s roster. FDU is an experienced team, with players who have played multiple times against Power-5 schools.
I touched on Xzavier Malone-Key earlier, as he returns from scoring 11.4 points, pulling down 3.9 rebounds, and swiping 1.1 steals per game last year. Jahlil Jenkins was one of the two best players last year for the Knights, putting up 13.6 points, 4.5 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per contest. The third returning big contributor from last season is Kaleb Bishop, who averaged 10 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks.
4. Tough start to the season
The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights started the season with a convincing win at home over the Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham Devils, by the score of 101-52. However, since then, the Knights went on a five game losing streak, all on the road. The five straight losses were to DePaul, Fordham, Army, Lafeyette, and Notre Dame.
Fairleigh Dickinson then hosted Quinnipiac at home earlier this week and squeaked out a one point victory. It took a free throw with 2 seconds remaining and an offensive rebound to edge out the W. Now sporting a 2-5 record on the year, life gets easier after today’s game against Kentucky, as the Cats are the last bigger conference school they play until the potential postseason.
5. First ever meeting
For the second time this season, Kentucky will be facing a school for the first time in history. The first time this happened was the unfortunate loss to Evansville in Rupp, so we all hope to right that ship this afternoon. Fairleigh Dickinson travels to Rupp Arena for the first time and they meet a 24.5 point spread in favor of the Cats.
Traveling from Teaneck, New Jersey after their game on Tuesday, the Knights will face a Kentucky Wildcat team that has had over a week since their last game. Fully rested, but still not fully healthy, the Cats look to use Fairleigh Dickinson to start the rapid improvement we see every year through the month of December.
Go Cats. Beat Knights.