Today’s matchup with Hofstra will be the first time that the University of Kentucky has faced the Pride. Head coach Joe Mihalich is in his fourth season at Hofstra, where he has done a remarkable job. Mihalich took over after a 7-win 2012-13 season, and has now had 20+ wins in back to back seasons. That’s actually a strikingly good job at any school, but especially impressive at a school like Hofstra that won’t be bringing in top 25 recruiting classes every year.
The Pride are poised to be good for a few years too, as they only have 2 seniors on this season’s roster and their leading scorer is a true freshman. Let’s take a look at the projected starters for the Pride in today’s game.
#5 Eli Pemberton, Freshman Guard, 6’4″
Eli Pemberton has been the best player for the Pride so far this season as a true freshman. In the 2016 Jordan Brand Classic Regional Game, he was given the Most Valuable Player award. He chose Hofstra over Kansas State and St. Bonaventure.
As mentioned earlier, Pemberton leads Hofstra in scoring with 15.3 points per game, to go along with 3.7 rebounds per game and some impressive shooting stats. He’s shooting a team leading 50% fro 3-point land and 84% from the free throw stripe.
The Wildcats will need to run Pemberton off of the three point line as he usually takes almost 5 threes per game. He doesn’t average a huge number of assists, with only 18 in 10 games, so look for Coach Cal to force him to find teammates or take tough 2’s rather than open 3’s.
#14 Brian Bernardi, Senior Guard, 6’2″
Brian Bernardi is one of two senior starters for Hofstra this season, and they team up to make a very productive back court. He started every game of the season last year for the Pride after transferring from SMU and sitting out his sophomore season.
Last year, Bernardi led the team and was third in the CAA conference in three-point shooting. This season, the senior is averaging 14.1 points and 2 rebounds per game, while shooting 37.9% from deep. He’s attempted the most threes on the team, 20 more than the next closest player, shooting almost 7 of them per game.
The same strategy that the Cats use on Pemberton should be effective against Bernardi. Not leaving open shooters when another player drives is one of the biggest keys to three-point defense. If off-ball defenders don’t need to cheat in and help on drives to the lane, then kick outs for open jumpers are hard to come by.
#2 Deron Powers, Senior Guard, 6’0″
The second of two seniors running the backcourt for the Pride is Deron Powers. Powers sat out all of last season due to NCAA transfer rules and he played his first two years at Hampton. He was actually a starter for the Hampton team that the Karl Towns led Wildcats beat in the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament, and was one of only 4 players to make more than one field goal for Hampton that night.
Powers runs the point for the Pride in his first season at Hofstra. He is scoring 12.5 points, dishing out a team leading 4.4 assists, and grabbing 1 steal per game, while shooting 35.1% from deep. Powers hasn’t taken near as many shots from deep as the other two guards in the starting lineup, so his penetration will be what the Cats look to contain.
The senior does a lot of driving and kicking, which has hurt UK in the past, most notably in the UCLA game. If the Cats help too much on Powers’ drives, he will find open shooters on the wings for points. There aren’t many things Coach Cal hates more on defense than leaving open shooters.
#0 Ty Greer, Junior Forward, 6’6″
This is Ty Greer’s first season at Hofstra after playing his first two years in junior college at Daytona State where he was a two-year starter for the Falcons. He led them to the NJCAA Final Four last year as well.
Greer is currently just short of being the 4th Pride starter averaging double figures in scoring at 9.7 points per game. He is also grabbing 5.3 rebounds per game and shooting 37.5% from behind the arc.
The junior will be matched up with the Derek Willis/Wenyen Gabriel spot in the UK lineup, a spot that has not been good defensively for the Cats this season. At 6’6″, he will be very undersized in comparison to UK’s frontcourt though. Neither of UK’s current four-men do much in the post, so I think a bigger lineup of Humphries at the 5 and Bam at the 4 could provide a huge advantage for the Cats.
#11 Rokas Gustys, Junior Center, 6’9″
Rokas Gustys is a native of Kaunas, Lithuania, but he played his high school basketball at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. Gustys had a great season as a sophomore, as he was named to the All-Conference Team, All-Conference Defensive Team, and All-Conference Academic Team.
Gustys is a mountain of a man at 6’9″ and 260 pounds, making him actually slightly bigger than Bam for the Wildcats. Currently, the Lithuanian is averaging almost a double-double at 9.3 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. He is the top rebounder in the country by almost a full rebound per game.
Surprisingly, rebounding has been an issue for this UK team, despite how big they are. Gustys could cause real problems on the glass if the Cats don’t make a concerted effort to box him out. Bam should have his hands full with one of the better big men he’s faced this season so far.
The Hofstra Pride bring a 6-4 record into today’s game, but I think they’re balanced scoring efforts are what make them dangerous to a team like Kentucky who could be looking forward to the North Carolina game on Saturday in Vegas. The Pride have 3 guys scoring double digits, but also have three more who are just around 1 point away from also being in double figures per game. For comparison, the Cats only have four guys who fit that description.
Kentucky should have no real issue with Hofstra but anything can happen in a neutral site game. I think the Cats come out looking to score a lot of points in the paint, and we see the first time Bam really imposes his will against a team. The offense doesn’t really look for Bam very often, as UK is a very guard-oriented starting lineup, but today could be the day that changes.
Go Cats. Beat Pride.