There’s no debate that last week one one of the worst weeks for Kentucky Basketball since John Calipari arrived in Lexington and took the college basketball world by storm. Two losses, one to a 10-9 Tennessee team at the time and the other to another blue blood school, Kansas, in the usually friendly confines of Rupp Arena. On top of the losses, there weren’t many positives to take away from either game. The game against the Volunteers was a true trap game. The Kansas game had been hyped for months and freshmen can get caught up in that hype. I think the Kansas loss stings more for the sole reason that it was another national powerhouse program. Upsets happen in conference play every year, so the loss in Knoxville wasn’t exactly a huge surprise in the grand scheme of things. But man, you really want that win against a top 5 program of all time. I’d lose to a team like this year’s Tennessee Volunteers once a season every season if it meant a win over one of the best programs in history every year.
Moving on! Tonight the Kentucky Wildcats play hosts to the Georgia Bulldogs. The Cats are in need of some good mojo and Georgia coming to town brings just that. Kentucky is an astonishing 121-26 against Georgia all-time. Since he started as the head coach in Lexington, Coach Cal is 11-2 against the Bulldogs, with both losses coming at Georgia in Athens. The Cats will look to make it 7 straight wins over the Bulldogs tonight, coming in as an original 16.5 point favorite.
Mark Fox brings his team to Lexington this season with a 13-8 record on the year. He returns two guys that really hurt UK last year, despite both games being losing efforts. Last season, Georgia fell to UK once in the regular season by the score of 82-48 and once in the SEC Tournament by the score of 93-80. Let’s see how they fare tonight with this starting lineup.
#1 Yante Maten, Junior Forward, 6’8″
Yante Maten returns as the best player from last year’s Georgia Bulldog squad to be one of the best players in the SEC this season. He started every game for Mark Fox last season, on his way to earning Second Team All-SEC. In fact, if you include this season, Maten has started 87 of the 88 games he’s played in a Georgia uniform.
The Junior has been a force for the Dawgs this season. He’s leading the team in points, rebounds, and blocks. His averages are 19.7 points per game, good for second in the SEC, 7.7 rebounds which ranks third in the conference, 1.5 blocks, and 1.5 assists. UK’s weak front court couldn’t handle Maten last season, as he averaged 18 points and 9.5 rebounds in the two games.
Maten causes a little bit of a match up issue for the Cats. His size at 6’8″ and 240 pounds make him a post matchup for Bam Adebayo, but his ability to step away from the basket could take Bam away from his role as the sole rim protector for the Wildcats. Maten is most likely just flat out too good to rely on Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis to attempt to keep him from scoring.
#30 JJ Frazier, Senior Guard, 5’10”
JJ Frazier was right up there with Yante Maten in the running for best player for Mark Fox last season. He led the team in the scoring, assists, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage a year ago. He, like Maten, was also tabbed Second Team All-SEC by the coaches.
Frazier is putting up solid numbers in his final collegiate season, leading the team in assists, steals, and free-throw percentage. He’s putting up 15.5 points, 4.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 2 steals per game, which is the third best in the SEC. While his numbers may look good, they are down in comparison to last season, most notably, his shooting from deep. Last season, Frazier shot 39% from 3-point land, and this year that percentage has dropped to 27%. His free throw shooting has remained a constant though, hitting 89.2% on the year.
In the two games against Kentucky last season, Frazier had games on opposite ends of the spectrum. One game he scored 19 points to go with 5 assists, while foul trouble and a heavy dose of Tyler Ulis defense hindered him in the second game, scoring only 4 points on 0-8 shooting from the field. While Coach Cal has been talking a lot the past few days about looking for a defensive stopped on this team, I still think that sits with Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox. It makes sense for Briscoe to guard Frazier, but the smaller and quicker guard may end up drawing the defensive attention of Fox at points.
#3 Juwan Parker, Junior Guard, 6’4″
Juwan Parker missed all of the 2015-16 season due to off-season surgery to fix an injury to his left Achilles. He actually incurred the injury about halfway through the 2014-15 season, and chose to pursue a medical redshirt the following season. Parker was a part-time starter for Mark Fox at the time of his injury, but he missed about a season and a half of playing time.
This season, it would seem that Parker is feeling 100% and is back to his old playing style. The Junior is averaging 9.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. He’s not much of a shooter from downtown, only hitting 7 threes on the season, but he is a solid mid range shooter. His free throw percentage is second on the team at 82.5%.
Parker could be guarded by any of the three starting guards for the Wildcats tonight, mostly depending on how Coach Cal defends JJ Frazier. If Cal goes with Fox on Frazier, then I think Briscoe takes the defensive responsibilities of guarding Parker. Parker is a more physical guard and Briscoe would handle that style of paly better than Fox or Monk, in my opinion.
#34 Derek Ogbeide, Sophomore Forward, 6’8″
Derek Ogbeide was a solid contributor in his freshman campaign for Mark Fox, despite playing less than 20 minutes per game. He finished second on the team in rebounds and blocked shots a season ago. The Atlanta, Georgia native brings some more muscle to the front line for the Bulldogs.
Ogbeide is a consistent player for Mark Fox this year, playing a blue collar role opposite the flashier stats of Yante Maten down low. He’s averaging 7 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per contest. The shots that Ogbeide does take will be high percentage and most likely under the basket. He’s shooting the best percentage from the field on the team at 58.5%.
Last year against the Cats, Ogbeide wasn’t a huge factor scoring, but had good games on the glass. He combined for 6 points, 15 rebounds, and a block in the two games against Kentucky. Defending Ogbeide is where the Yante Maten matchup becomes interesting for Coach Calipari. Ogbeide is a physically stronger player than Wenyen Gabriel, which would suggest putting Bam Adebayo on him in the post, but that leaves Gabriel to guard Maten, something I’m sure Coach Cal is looking to avoid after what Josh Jackson did for Kansas a few days ago.
#2 Jordan Harris, Freshman Guard, 6’4″
Jordan Harris is the only freshman playing major minutes for the Bulldogs this season. He was ranked as a four-star prospect by most recruiting services coming out of Seminole County High School in Iron City, Georgia. He was also ranked as the third best shooting guard in the state of Georgia for the class of 2016.
Harris picked up the starting role just before SEC play began and has starting all 8 conference games for the Bulldogs. He’s scoring 5.6 points, dishing out just under 2 assists, and pulling down 1.6 rebounds per game throughout his freshman season. He’s a threat from downtown as well, hitting 24 of 34 threes on the season for a 44.7% clip.
Unless Malik Monk has developed some sort of defensive stopper mentality in the past three days, I think he probably guards Jordan Harris. Harris is the fifth option on offense for the Bulldogs, and Malik Monk is more of an offensive player than a two-way player. His athleticism should lend to him being a better defender and rebounder than he is, so we’ll see what Coach Cal’s on-on-one with him this weekend did for his defensive efforts.
Georgia is coming off a win against Big 12 Texas, but have had their fair share of struggles throughout the season. They’ve dropped games to the likes of Oakland, Clemson, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt, among others. If the Cats can shut down one of their two main guys, Maten and Frazier, then UK should be able to cruise to an easy victory. However, the defensive end has been the struggle as of late for this Kentucky team. I think Coach Cal has probably made a few adjustments in the last couple days and we see a renewed sense of urgency with this team in tonight’s game. I have my set of doubts with this team down the road, but as for tonight’s game, I think the Cats take care of business.
Go Cats. Beat Bulldogs.