After celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday, the Wildcats will be making a quick turnaround to start off the weekend. UK will return to Rupp Arena for a 7:00 tip. The SEC Network will be in the house with Courtney Lyle and Pat Bradley on the call.
Tennessee State University is located in Nashville and is a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. Under a young, first year head coach the Tigers are looking to turn into a consistent winner on the hardwood. This program has not been to the Big Dance since 1994.
Kentucky will look to continue their high scoring ways while working on their perimeter defense on the day after Thanksgiving.
Nuts and Bolts
TSU emerged as a power in the NAIA in the 1950s when the Tigers won three national championships. Soon after this success the program moved up to Division II and there they were in contention for national titles in the 1970s. The Tigers then made the move to Division I and the results have not been there.
Tennessee State made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 1993 and followed it up with an appearance in 1994 when they were knocked out by Kentucky in the Round of 64. Since then it has been a lot of disappointment.
The Tigers made the CIT postseason tournament three times since 2012, but head coach Dana Ford decided to leave Nashville for the head gig at Missouri State following last season. To help keep some of the momentum and consistent winning established, TSU turned to a very young head coach.
Brian “Penny” Collins will turn 35 this March and the former guard for Belmont played one season in the NBA development league out of college. After one season playing professionally in Europe, Collins decided it was time to start his coaching career. After beginning his career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee State, Collins landed his first full-time role at an NAIA school before becoming a head coach for the first time.
Collins would move to the junior college ranks to take over at Columbia State. In three years, the young coach would collect 54 wins in his last two seasons after going winless in year one. After that tenure, he would return to Division I to be an assistant at East Tennessee State and Illinois State before returning to the place where his coaching career began this season.
In their first year under Penny Collins, TSU is off to a 2-3 start but they are 0-3 against Divsion I competition. KenPom has this squad ranked 284th in the country as the Tigers have two single-digit losses to start the year. So far this season, this group has been playing at a quick tempo but the strength of their team has been on the defensive side of the floor.
This will be the fifth meeting between the two programs located just 275 miles apart. Kentucky owns a 4-0 series lead with each victory occurring by double-digits. Kentucky has scored at least 83 points in each meeting and Patrick Patterson dropped 33 points the last time these two squads faced off.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is currently a 28-point favorite with a total of 153.5. That’s a projected final score of around 91-63. Kentucky is just 1-4 against the spread this season while Tennessee State is 1-1-1 with the over going 3-0.
The best two players for the Tigers are found in the backcourt and it starts with Ole Miss transfer Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey. The Memphis native sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules after leaving Oxford. At Ole Miss, Fitzpatrick-Dorsey started three games but was used very little by Andy Kennedy. At TSU, it’s clear that he’s an integral piece for the basketball team.
In five games, the slashing guard leads the team is scoring and he’s done most of his damage at the free throw line. The 6-foot-4 and 191-pound junior leads the team in free throw attempts and has been an efficient shooter from three-point distance.
His running mate in the backcourt is guard Kamar McKnight and the Canadian has been very good to start the season. The 6-foot-4 guard started his career in junior college and is putting up 14 points per game to start the season. McKnight leads the team in minutes and assists. He is not a good outside shooter so look for him to try and attack at all opportunities.
TSU’s top five scorers are all found in the backcourt so once again Kentucky will be facing an offense that is very perimeter oriented. Kentucky’s sketchy perimeter defense will be challenged once again.
Expect the Tigers to play a lot of small ball lineups tonight at Rupp Arena, but Penny Collins has a fair share of bigs to throw out there. Stokley Chaffee Jr. leads TSU’s bigs in minutes and he’s been a factor on the boards to start the season. The Oakland native is collecting over seven boards a game and he’s a big reason why TSU has been able to eliminate offensive rebounds.
The Tigers will play about four other players in the frontcourt. They are still looking for answers but this group does a good job doing the dirty work so their perimeter partners can attack and score. This will be the best defensive rebounding group UK has faced since Duke. The chance for 20-plus offensive rebounds may not be there in this game.
Keys to Victory
- Perimeter defense, perimeter defense, perimeter defense. Kentucky has struggled to stop teams off the bounce all season and in four games Kentucky’s opponent have hit 12-plus threes on at least a 45% clip. Kentucky must get better at pressuring the basketball and creating stops. Following the Winthrop win, John Calipari verbally challenged Keldon Johnson by stating the five-star wing was unable to keep anyone in front of him. Facing a team that loves to play downhill but doesn’t have great shooters, getting going tonight would be a good time to start.
- In each of the home victories, Kentucky has put together some impressive stretches. However, they have been unable to play at a high level for longer than about 15 minutes. That must start to improve. Against an inferior Tennessee State squad, the goal should be to be dominant for at least one half.
- Offensively, Kentucky must continue to force feed their bigs. Both Reid Travis and P.J. Washington are going to be tough to stop on the block and each has proven to be a quality passer. Get them going early and that’s going to cause the defense to collapse. Once that happens, UK’s perimeter players will get wide open shots and driving opportunities.