The first time the Kentucky Wildcats took on the Texas A&M Aggies this season back in the first week of 2017, the Cats beat up on the Aggies on the way to a 42 point victory in Rupp Arena. The Aggies are an extremely young team that is going to cause problems for teams in a few years, but the first match up just saw UK completely overwhelm A&M in almost every aspect of the game. Defensively, the Cats recorded 10 steals and forced a total of 25 turnovers, on top of having 11 guys score on the offensive side of the ball.
Since then, the Aggies have suffered a big loss to their starting lineup, as their second leading scorer at the time, DJ Hogg, suffered a foot injury to keep him out for the season. Hogg was averaging 12 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game.
Tonight is the last regular season game of the season for these two teams, which means that it will probably involve some senior day festivities for the Aggies’ two seniors, JC Hampton and Tavario Miller. The senior night festivities, coupled with the T-shirts that are being given away to every fan, make today’s game a little more interesting to me. A desperate team to make a run at the end of the year to improve their tournament stock in front of a rowdy crowd isn’t exactly an easy task for this Kentucky team who has been been itself down double digits to start most of the recent games they’ve played.
Here’s a look at the probable starting lineup for Billy Kennedy’s squad today:
(I’m giving the starting lineup that doesn’t include Tavario Miller. Miller may start due to senior day tradition, but he usually doesn’t play any more than 10 minutes per game, so the below lineup is more likely on the court against the Cats for the most part.)
#34 Tyler Davis, Sophomore Center, 6’10”
Tyler Davis was one of the best freshmen in the SEC last season and has now developed into one of the more talented big-men in the country in his sophomore year. I remember watching him against put up a total of 23 points and 21 rebounds through two games against UK last season and thinking how much of a problem he was going to be in the future. Well, his future is here and Davis is really solid for A&M.
This season, Davis is leading the team in scoring and is second in rebounding, putting up 14.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. The rebounding may not seem like a huge issue at less than 7 per game, but almost half of his rebounds come on the offensive glass. Last game against the Cats, he finished with 13 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 7 turnovers.
Davis is the biggest body that UK has faced this season, measuring at 6’10” and 270 pounds. He’ll was the first guy that gave me legit worries about how Bam Adebayo will handle him in the post. Bam handled Davis defensively last game, but Bam didn’t have any huge game himself either. Now that Bam is a bigger part of the offensive, we should see this match up play out more than the first time. Davis has taken almost 50 more free throws than any player on the team, so keeping Bam out of foul trouble will be key for the Cats.
#3 Admon Gilder, Sophomore Guard, 6’4″
One of three sophomores to start most of the season for the Aggies, Admon Gilder played over 20 minutes per game last season. In the two games against UK last year, Gilder was not much of a factor against Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, putting up a total of 2 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist in 45 minutes.
A large increase in minutes as a starter has shown productive for Gilder, as his output as increased. He’s averaging 12.5 points, and 3.9 rebounds. He’s leading the team with 3.9 assists and just over 2 steals per game. Gilder has taken and made the most 3’s on the team, shooting at a 39.3% clip. Last game against the Cats, Gilder finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. He had the best game of any Aggie player in the first match up.
Gilder does a really good job of getting his teammates in position to score on the offensive end and then locking down the opponents best guard on defense. For various reasons, I could see Billy Kennedy trying to use him to defend any of UK’s three guards. De’Aaron Fox because he’ll have the ball in his hands a ton, Isaiah Briscoe because he’s such a playmaker, and Malik Monk because of his elite scoring ability. He’s going to have to step up the defensive effort after fouling out last game, and UK’s three starting guards combining for 54 points. For comparison, A&M scored 58 total points as a team.
#10 Tonny Trocha-Morelos, Junior Forward, 6’10”
The Cats start three players at 6’3″. Meanwhile, Tonny Trocha-Morelos is the one of three starters for the Aggies at 6’9″ or taller. Trocha-Morelos put up 7 points and 6 boards in each of the games against Kentucky last season.
The junior was splitting time with freshman forward Robert Williams, similarly to the way that Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis split time for the Cats. However, Trocha-Morelos starts alongside Williams now that DJ Hogg is injured. Trocha-Morelos averages 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game this season. He can step away from the basket and shoot a little bit, and he’s taken 80 3’s on the season, making 22 of them. He free throw percentage has dropped from 83% in the last matchup to 66% now.
Guarding Trocha-Morelos with Willis and Gabriel is a good matchup for the Cats, who have struggled at the four-spot this season on the defensive side of the ball at times. The problem this creates for the Cats is that with Bam guarding Davis, A&M starts another physical post player in Williams, meaning Gabriel may have to move over to the post, leaving one of UK’s 6’3″ guards to defend the 6’10” Trocha-Morelos.
#5 JC Hampton, Graduate Transfer Guard, 6’1″
JC Hampton is one of only two seniors on this Texas A&M team. He utilized the graduate transfer rule after playing his first three years at Lipscomb and earning a Bachelor’s degree. Hampton was the leading-scorer for the Bison of Lipscomb last season, putting up 15.9 points per game. He was Second-Team All Atlantic-Sun conference last season.
Hampton doesn’t bring huge stats for the Aggies, but his experience on the floor provides a leader’s mentality. The graduate transfer is averaging 7 points, 1.9 assists, and 2 rebounds per game. Despite not scoring a bunch, Hampton’s shooting percentages speak for themselves. He shot 35.3% from 3 and 83.1% from the charity stripe for Lipscomb last year. He now is shooting 42.4% from deep and almost 80% from the line this season for the Aggies.
While his overall athleticism won’t blow away any of the three UK guards, he takes care of the ball extremely well, barely turning it over once per game. With how often a guard has the ball in his hands, limiting turnovers can be difficult just by the nature of the position. I think a big thing for the Kentucky guards will be not leaving Hampton for a driving player or for Tyler Davis in the post. Leaving him open for a corner three will open the door to a big night for a role player. Especially with the mismatch that Kentucky will face in the post, the guards can’t come down to double-team if the rest of the team doesn’t rotate to cover shooters.
#44 Robert Williams, Freshman Forward, 6’9″
Robert Williams has assumed the full-time starting role since DJ Hogg went down for the season with his foot injury. I actually think having Williams in the game provides a bigger matchup problem for the Cats than the versatile Hogg did. Williams is listed as a late lottery pick in a lot of NBA Mock Drafts for this upcoming draft. That’s a pretty good result for a four-star recruit who was in high school less than a year ago.
Williams has stepped into his role at Texas A&M and has been a steal for Billy Kennedy. He’s leading the team in rebounding at 7.9 per game, to go along with 11.7 points scored and 2.6 blocks per game. He is tied for the most blocks in the SEC per game. It is no surprise that NBA execs are salivating over the chance to draft someone with this much untapped potential.
The freshman is a match up nightmare for the Cats at this point in the season. He’s playing his best basketball, and Wenyen Gabriel is probably playing some of his worst of the season. At 6’9″ and 237 pounds, he has the ability to body Gabriel in the post. The only advantage I see the Cats having in this match up at the four spot is that Williams probably can’t stick with Gabriel and Willis on the perimeter which could be a good time for both of them to step up offensively.
The last game of the regular season is upon us. You all know what we have on this Kentucky team, and essentially how we match up with most of the SEC teams. I don’t feel the need to say much more than that. The Cats need to take care of business today, and win all three of their games in the SEC tourney to sure up their spot as a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. If the Cats take handle the rest of the schedule like they should, you can’t ask for anything more (other than asking the NCAA to not screw us in the brackets…). It is March y’all. Let’s have some fun.
Go Cats. Beat Aggies.