Tonight’s game will be only the second ever matchup between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Duquesne Dukes. The first time these two programs played each other was way back in December of 1982 in the annual UKIT which was started by Adolph Rupp in 1953. The Cats were also ranked as the number 2 team in the country in that matchup as well, taking the win by the score of 55-42.
Going into tonight’s game, the Dukes have a record of 2-2, including a last second loss on Friday to Canisius, a Golden Griffins team that UK beat by 24 in the second game of the regular season. Duquesne is going through a bit of a transition to start the season, as four of their five starters are newcomers to the program for coach Jim Ferry. Ferry is in his fifth season as the head coach of the Dukes, and he took LIU Brooklyn to the NCAA Tournament a handful of times prior to this role. Let’s take a look at the starting five that Coach Ferry will throw at the Wildcats tonight.
#3 Tarin Smith, Sophomore Guard, 6’2″
Tarin Smith is in his first year actually getting to suit up in a Dukes’ uniform, transferring after spending his freshman year at Nebraska, and sitting out last season due to transfer rules. The redshirt sophomore played in all 31 games as a freshman for the Cornhuskers, but was scoring less than 5 points per game.
Through four games with the Dukes this season, Smith is the leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points per game, to go along with 3.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.75 steals. Smith will probably be the best player for the Dukes all season, so it will be important for the Cats to focus a lot of their defensive energy on him to avoid any sort of “player shoots lights out just because he’s playing Kentucky” nonsense.
As evidenced by his almost 2 steals per game, Smith is an above average defender who Duquesne will need to play his best against an extremely talented backcourt for Coach Cal. He is a smaller guard and will be giving up an inch and at least ten pounds to whichever guard he will defend, which lends the advantage to the extremely athletic guards on the Kentucky roster.
#45 Isiaha Mike, Freshman Forward, 6’8″
Another newcomer to the Duquesne program is true freshman Isiaha Mike. Mike is a versatile forward who’s perimeter game is very solid. Canadian by birth, Mike played his high school basketball at Trinity International in Las Vegas. He was rated as the third best Canadian prospect in the class of 2016, behind Milwaukee Bucks draft pick Thon Maker and Maryland freshman Justin Jackson.
Mike has scored 12 points and pulled down 4.8 rebounds per game so far this season, both are good for second-best on the team. Shooting at a 58.3% clip from downtown, Mike is the best 3-point threat for the Dukes. And it isn’t just threes, Mike is shooting 63.3% from the field overall for the season, missing only 11 shots through 4 games.
At 6’8″ and only 200 pounds, Mike’s build will keep him on the perimeter for the most part. He will match up with Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel for most of tonight’s game, as their outside games fit into Mike’s style of play more so than a true power forward like Bam Adebayo.
#1 Mike Lewis II, Freshman Guard, 6’1″
The third of four newcomers to the starting lineup for is another true freshman in Mike Lewis II. Lewis II played for Chaminade College Preparatory School in St.Louis, alongside three other players who committed to division I schools, including one of the top recruits in the nation, Jayson Tatum for the Duke Blue Devils. Tatum and Lewis II have been close friends since they were in the 4th grade together, and were the first and second leading three point shooters for Chaminade.
Lewis II has averaged 9 points, a rebound, and an assist through the first four games of the season for the Dukes. His performance through the first two games was good enough to win him the first A-10 Conference Rookie of the Week award of the season.
Another smaller guard for Duquesne will provide a tough matchup with the backcourt of Kentucky. Lewis II measures at 2 inches and almost 15 pounds smaller than the smallest of UK’s three starting guards.
#5 Emile Blackman, Graduate Student, 6’3″
Despite being in graduate school, Emile Blackman is the fourth of four newcomers to the Duquesne starting lineup this season. Before transferring to Jim Ferry’s squad for his final season, Blackman led Niagara in scoring the past two years, scoring 20+ points 13 times in the past two seasons.
As only the second graduate transfer to Duquesne of all time, Blackman is the oldest player for the Dukes and will have to be a calming presence amongst what can be a rowdy Rupp Arena crowd. So far this season, Blackman has averaged 8.3 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game.
Given that he led Niagara in three point shooting over the past two seasons, I would expect for Blackman’s shooting to improve and scoring to increase throughout the season. He is a player that the Cats will have to keep an eye on so Kentucky isn’t the team that he finally catches fire against.
#00 Darius Lewis, Senior Center, 6’11”
Darius Lewis is the lone true senior on the roster for the Dukes.Before he enrolled at Duquesne, Lewis was a native of Lexington, Kentucky, playing his first two years of high school ball at Tates Creek High School before transferring to IMG Academy in Florida to finish up his high school career.
The senior leads the team in rebounding this season, pulling down 6.5 per game, to go along with 6.8 points per game. Lewis’ big frame make him a problem on the boards for opposing teams who have trouble moving him out of the lane.
At 6’11” and 250 pounds, Lewis will be the biggest player the Cats have taken on this season. His 1.75 blocks per game show his defensive prowess, and will for sure be an interesting matchup for the likes of Bam Adebayo, Isaac Humphries, and Sacha Killeya-Jones. A homecoming of sorts for Lewis should have him pumped up against a huge front-line for the Wildcats.
The Dukes like to play an up-tempo style under Jim Ferry, which could actually hinder their ability to keep this game close tonight. Kentucky holds a very large advantage in the talent and depth columns, and the Cats’ ability to force turnovers and score in transition make them tough to run and gun with. Coach Cal may try to press the young Dukes into some early turnovers to get the transition offense flowing early. Regardless of the pace the game is played at, the Wildcats should be able to handle themselves and take care of business, pushing their ranking up to #1 in the country come tomorrow afternoon.
Go Cats. Beat Dukes.