1. Two Man Offense
Despite having a rotation consisting of nine players playing over 12 minutes per game, the Mount St. Mary’s offensive attack starts and ends with two players. Junior guard Jalen Gibbs stands at 6’3″ and 185 pounds, averaging 15 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. Sophomore 6’0″ guard Vado Morse scores 12.2 points per contest, to go along with 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
Gibbs shoots 31% from three, while Morse hits 29%. Combined, the two players score 45% of the team’s points and attempt nearly 43% of the team’s shots per game. Morse has attempted double-digit shots in all but one game this season, and the lone outlier was a 1 for 9 performance against UAB. Gibbs has gone for double-digit shot attempts in two of the three games he’s played in as well. Both players have played over 31 minutes in all but one game this season, mostly hitting 36 minutes played or higher. If Kentucky wants to thwart any early runs from the Mountaineers, containing Gibbs and Morse will be the key to doing so.
2. Rough Start to the Season
After finishing last season with a disappointing overall record of 9-22, Mount St. Mary’s Head Coach Dan Engelstad is hoping to start to turn the program around in his second season at the helm. Coming into tonight’s game, the Mountaineers sit at a record of 1-4, with losses to Georgetown, Washington, Lamar, and UAB. The lone win for Mount St. Mary’s in this young season, is a 17-point win over Gettysburg College.
The start of 1-4 is definitely a tough start for the Mountaineers, but it is actually an improvement on the start last season. Nine straight losses marked the start last year for Mount St. Mary’s, followed by losing five of their next eight. Coach Engelstad had the youngest roster in the country last year, and it isn’t much different this season, with zero seniors on the roster. With Kentucky being the only Power-5 team on the schedule this season, Mt. St. Mary’s should have a bit of a better record going into conference play this year.
3. And You Thought Kentucky’s Offense Was Struggling
Kentucky’s offensive and defensive woes over the last week and a half are fairly evident. Most notably has been the inability to run a smooth offense, create open shots, and then hit open shots when they are created. Even so, the Cats are averaging 76.5 points per game, and Kentucky’s offensive issues pale in comparison to the struggles that Mount St. Mary’s has seen this year.
Averaging just 60.2 points per game, the Mountaineers rank 326th in the nation in scoring, while Kentucky ranks 125th. On top of the inability to score from the field, Mount St. Mary’s struggles to get to the free throw line, ranking 261st in the country in free throws attempted per game. To make matters worse, when the Mountaineers do get to the charity stripe, they’re knocking down just 62% of their free throws, ranking 302nd in the nation.
4. Big Problems with Small Teams
If the last few games weren’t proof enough, teams that play four to five perimeter players, rather than two post players, present defensive match up problems for Kentucky. The Cats get too extended and spaced out, leaving one man on an island and no rim protector in the back for help. It has been well documented that a big contributing factor to that problem, even self-admitted, has been Nate Sestina’s inability to stick with smaller, more athletic players. Unfortunately for Sestina, Mount St. Mary’s provides more of the same, as he’ll be guarding a smaller player for the majority of the game.
The Mountaineers don’t have a player on the roster over 6’9″, but they do have three forwards measuring in right at 6’9″. That’s about where the size stops for Mount St. Mary’s, as there’s just one additional player taller than 6’4″ on the entire roster. The roster consists of six players standing 6’3″ or smaller. While Kentucky should have size advantages all over the floor, it will be interesting to see if there are noticeable improvements in the area of defending this type of offense.
5. Second All-Time Meeting
Similar to the match up with Utah Valley on Monday night, tonight’s game will be the second ever match up between the Wildcats and the Mountaineers. The first ever match up between Mount St. Mary’s and Kentucky occurred back in the first round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament. The Cats won the game by the score of 113 to 67, powered by 17 points and 11 rebounds from Walter McCarty, as well as 20 points from Tony Delk.
For their first trip to Rupp Arena, the Mountaineers are met with an opening spread of 27 points. After not covering the spread in a big way over the last two games, we’ll see if Kentucky can get back to winning in a convincing fashion tonight. Two poor performances, paired with an opponent lacking offensive firepower, could mean that tonight is a good start back in the right direction for the Cats.
Go Cats. Beat Mountaineers.