Yesterday wasn’t the most fun day to be a Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan, let’s just be honest. Seeing the names of Nerlens Noel, Bam Adebayo, and Kevin Knox on the Yahoo! Sports article was the worst way to start a Friday. But today is a new day, and the season goes on. Having said that, the rest of this post is working under the assumption that Kevin Knox will play and start for the Cats tonight. On top of that, I’m also working under the assumption that Michael Porter Jr will not start for Missouri tonight in his first game cleared from injury.
The last match up with the Tigers was one of the Wildcats’ worst games all season. It was the first time Missouri had ever beaten UK in men’s basketball and started a four game losing streak for the Cats. Kentucky only had one player score over 8 points, they shot 2 of 20 from three, and 7 of 9 players were in foul trouble for the majority of the game. However, Missouri didn’t play that well either, as the Cats’ defense held them to a low amount of points, but the offense couldn’t help the defense out.
Today’s game looks a bit different, as the wake of yesterday’s news is sure to provide some distraction, but on top of that, one of the top recruits in the class may be suiting up for the first time since opening night for the Tigers, in Michael Porter Jr. The presence of a player of that caliber will definitely make the match up have a bit more fire power. Let’s take a look at the possible starting lineup for the Tigers tonight.
#3 Kassius Robertson, Senior Guard, 6’3″
Kassius Robertson is in his first season at Missouri, utilizing the graduate transfer option after spending three years as Canisius. Robertson was one of the top scorers in the MAAC last season and shot over 40% from three in both his sophomore and junior seasons. Robertson has stepped into the scoring role that the injured Michael Porter Jr. left open.
The graduate transfer senior has been a great addition for Cuonzo Martin this season. Robertson is leading the team in scoring, at 16.5 points per game, and three point shooting, at 42.4% on the year. He’s also hitting 81.9% of his free throws, pulling down 2.9 rebounds, dishing out 2.5 assists, and leading the team at 1 steal per game. He finished with 16 points, 4 assists, and 5 turnovers against UK earlier this year.
Despite not being a true point guard, Robertson has the ball in his hands a lot, to create for this Tiger offense. The second guard in the starting lineup has changed throughout the year, but Robertson has been steady. Kentucky will most likely start their best defensive guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, on Robertson to begin the game, as they did last time. The problem for Robertson may be defending Shai, as he led Kentucky with 15 points and 6 assists in the previous match up.
#21 Jordan Barnett, Senior Forward, 6’7″
Jordan Barnett returns to the starting lineup for the Missouri Tigers this season, after leading them in scoring through most of last year. He sat out his sophomore season due to transfer rules, after starting his collegiate career with the Longhorns at Texas. In the game three weeks ago, Barnett had 16 points and 6 rebounds.
The senior is probably the most dangerous player on this Missouri team for opponents to game plan against. Reason being is that Barnett can score at a high rate on the perimeter, as well as get to the rim using his size. He’s currently averaging 13.9 points and 5.9 rebounds, good for second on the team in both categories. He’s a lights out shooter, hitting 40.6% of his threes and 89.2% of his free throws on the year.
At the small forward position, the Jordan Barnett versus Kevin Knox match up will be key in today’s game. Both teams rely on their 3-man to score from both inside and out, as well as set a tone for the offense. Look for both of these forwards to be involved early and often in the offensive load. Knox struggled amongst the boos from Missouri fans in the first game, as somehow they thought that he spurned them by not going there, even though the Tigers were never a serious option in his decision. Knox will need to have more than 5 points on 6 shots in today’s game.
#24 Kevin Puryear, Junior Forward, 6’7″
Kevin Puryear is now a three year starter for this Missouri Tiger program. He’s been a steady contributor since his freshman season, when he was named to the 2016 SEC All-Freshman team. He was actually the best freshman scorer at Missouri in almost 25 years. He had 7 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in the first game against Kentucky.
The junior has seen a drop in his overall stats this season, with the influx of some new talent under first year head coach Cuonzo Martin. He’s had a decrease in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and three point percentage from last season. Nevertheless, he’s still a solid contributor, averaging 9.1 points and 4.6 rebounds. He’s shooting 28.9% from behind the arc and 81.5% from the charity stripe.
At 6’7″ and 238 pounds, Puryear is a thick body at the power forward position for the Tigers, matching up with Kentucky’s PJ Washington and Wenyen Gabriel at the 4 spot. The two players, Washington and Puryear, have near the same measurements for height and weight, with Washington being just two pounds less than Puryear. Washington will need to fight for rebounds to not be out-bodied by Puryear today. Neither Wenyen or PJ played well in the first match up, so getting nearly anything out of them will be an improvement.
#23 Jeremiah Tilmon, Freshman Forward, 6’10”
Jeremiah Tilmon is the lone freshman in the starting lineup for Cuonzo Martin; however, he is sometimes joined by Jontay Porter, brother of Michael Porter Jr. Tilmon was a four-star rated recruit coming out of high school and was regarded as a top 50 player in the class. He had 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks against Kentucky three weeks ago.
Tilmon is on his way to becoming a force in the paint for Missouri, with a solid start in his freshman season. He’s averaging 8.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1 block per game. He struggles shooting, only hitting 47.5% of his free throws. He splits time with Jontay Porter, who leads the Tigers in rebounds and blocked shots, despite only being a part-time starter.
Measuring in at 6’10” and 252 pounds, Tilmon is the presence in the post for the Tigers, alongside Porter who stands at 6’11” and 240 pounds. Both are talented bigs who took advantage of Kentucky’s bigs last game, as neither Nick Richards or Sacha Killeya-Jones gave much of anything to the Cats. Richards has been playing well as of late, and Kentucky will need a strong presence from him tonight.
#33 Cullen VanLeer, Junior Guard, 6’4″
Cullen VanLeer started about half of least season’s games, and has started just 10 games this year. In the match up three weeks ago against the Cats, VanLeer finished with 3 points and 2 assists in 19 minutes.
The junior puts another guard in the lineup for Cuonzo Martin, despite not being a huge stat sheet stuffer. His current averages are 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds, while shooting 31.7% from three on the year. Interesting stat on VanLeer is that he’s attempting just 7 free throws this season, and has missed all seven for a 0.00% free throw percentage. Now that I type that, he’ll probably make his first one of the year against the Cats.
As the second of two guards in the starting lineup, VanLeer will most likely match up with Hamidou Diallo for Kentucky. This is a match up that Hami should be to finally get back on track against. Diallo has struggled to find a rhythm this year, and maybe he’ll be able to get it going today. If not, Quade Green has been playing very well as of late, alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, so look for that lineup combination to continue.
Go Cats. Beat Tigers.