1. The Tool Man
While most of you may be used to hearing the name Tim Allen and thinking of Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor from the 90s sitcom Home Improvement, but you’ll need to get familiar with a different Tim Allen for tonight’s game against Utah. Sophomore swingman, Timmy Allen, is the unquestioned best player on this Utah roster. Standing at 6’6″ and 204 pounds, Allen has the tools to feel comfortable playing both on the perimeter in with his back to the basket in the midrange game. This makes him a difficult player to defend for Kentucky’s most used lineup, consisting of three guards.
Allen leads the team in scoring, with 20.6 points per game, as well as rebounding, with 7.4 rebounds per game. He’s also contributing 2.7 assists and nearly one steal per contest, to go with shooting 54.3% from the field and 79.1% from the free throw line. He can score in a variety of ways, but three-point land may be the least effective at this point in the season, having made just one of his ten attempts this year. The Mesa, Arizona native has led his team in scoring every game this season, rebounding in six of ten games, and assists twice.
2. Going up against the big boys
After playing against several smaller schools and rosters in the last few weeks, this week in Las Vegas marks that it is truly time for Kentucky to match up with the big boys, and I don’t just mean as far as playing schools from Power-5 conferences. Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak brings to the table, the largest team that Kentucky has played this season. With a whopping 17 players on the roster, the Utes have twelve players standing at 6’6″ or taller.
In the starting lineup, outside of 6’6″ Timmy Allen at the small forward position, the Utes start 6’9″ Riley Battin and 7’0″ Brandon Carlson. Coming off the bench, Utah has several contributors bringing size, with 6’8″ Mikael Jantunen playing the sixth man role to the tune of 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21 minutes per game. 6’10” Lahat Thioune plays more than 11 minutes per game, while 7’4″ Matt Van Komen plays seven minutes per game. Tonight will be a big game to measure the true growth of Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery against some bigger bodies, as well as showcase how Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks match up with a bigger roster without Nate Sestina in the lineup.
3. Ups and downs
Sitting at an overall record of 8-2 entering tonight’s game, the first month and a half of the season has had some ups and downs for Utah. The Utes started off the season with a big five-point win at Nevada, following it up with a 94-point (yes, nearly 100) win over Mississippi Valley State, and a close fought win over Minnesota, who just knocked off Saturday’s opponent, Ohio State. The first down came next, as the Utes dropped their first game of the season in a 22-point blowout loss at Coast Carolina.
Utah got back on track with a win over the Ohio Bobcats, before faltering again. Their second loss in three games came at the hands of Tulane at a neutral site. Since then, the Utes have rattled off four straight wins over UC Davis, BYU, Central Arkansas, and Weber State. Kentucky will be one of three ranked teams that Utah has scheduled over the next three weeks.
4. Younger than young
As any Kentucky fan can attest, John Calipari is known to bring up once or twice or ten times that he has one of the youngest teams in the country. The difference tonight is that Utah is actually younger than Kentucky this year, as the Utes are the 2nd youngest team in the country. I mentioned earlier that the roster is huge, with 17 total players, but even more shocking is that 11 of 17 players are freshman.
Not only do they have a lot of freshman, but four of the remaining six spots are occupied by sophomores. The Utes also dress one junior who transferred into the program from a junior college, as well as one walk-on senior who hasn’t checked into a game yet this season.
5. Cats going for number 9
No, not National Championship number 9. Tonight, the Cats go for a ninth straight win over the University of Utah. Kentucky comes in with an overall record of 10-2 record against the Utes all-time, including winning the last eight, after alternating wins and losses over the first four match ups.
The most recent match up between the teams was almost exactly a year ago, as the Utes traveled to Rupp Arena and fell to the Cats by the score of 88-61. A few players from this year’s roster played last year, as Both Gach led the Utes in that game, with 22 points and four made threes. Timmy Allen finished with 7 points and three rebounds, while Riley Battin had 5 points and 7 rebounds.
Go Cats. Beat Utes.