1. Winthrop’s best player stands at just 5’10” and 180 pounds. Nych Smith is a senior from Memphis, Tennessee, and he can flat out fill it up. Similar to VMI’s Bubba Parham who torched the Cats on Sunday, Smith is a small, quick guard who can score from anywhere on the floor. Smith averaged just 7.1 points per game last season, but has improved a ton into this year. Through Winthrop’s first four games, he’s averaging 19.3 points and shooting nearly 39% from three. He is the type of player that can get hot and get into a rhythm scoring, but if the Cats nip it in the bud early, they can neutralize that threat.
2. Head Coach Pat Kelsey starts a lineup that features three guards standing 6’1″ or shorter. Outside of the three guards, the Eagles start two forwards, one at 6’5″ and the other at 6’8″. Their size, both in their starting lineup and off their bench, pales in comparison to Kentucky’s. Just as we saw PJ Washington and Reid Travis take over the paint on both ends of the floor against VMI, the Cats should be able to dominate inside this afternoon. The tallest player on Winthrop’s roster is 6’10”, but he plays just 5 minutes per game. I know Coach Cal wants to work on his guard play, as he should, but when push comes to shove, if this game is closer than it should be, the Cats will be able exploit that weakness.
3. The Eagles have won the regular season Big South Conference title two of the last three seasons. While winning the regular season conference crown in 2016 and 2017, Winthrop finished one win shy of first place in 2018. Pat Kelsey’s extremely uptempo style of play since starting at Winthrop seven years ago has set school records in categories such as three-pointers per game, threes made, offensive pace, and points scored in a single game. In his first six seasons, he held an overall record of 121-71, and became the first coach in Big South Conference history to reach 100 wins in their first five seasons.
4. Winthrop sits at 2-2 through their first four games of the season. They opened the season at Vanderbilt with a 13 point loss, followed by wins over SIU-Edwardsville and Pfeiffer. Their most recent game, on Saturday, was a 2 point loss to East Tennessee State, despite leading late in the second half. Outside of the season opener at Vandy and today’s game at UK, the Eagles do play one other power 5 school in non-conference play. Winthrop opens the new year traveling to Florida State for a game against the top-20 ranked Seminoles.
5. This afternoon will be just the third time that Kentucky has faced off with Winthrop. Winthrop’s first ever game at Rupp Arena was 15 years ago today, as the Cats knocked off the Eagles by the score of 65-44 behind Erik Daniels’ 15 points and 8 rebounds. The two teams also faced off in 2010, with Kentucky winning 89 to 52, powered by 32 points and 7 of 8 shooting from behind the three point line by Doron Lamb.
Go Cats. Beat Eagles.