After handling their business earlier this week, Kentucky will return to the hardwood at Rupp Arena on Sunday evening to take on another team they have clear advantages over at every position.
The Wildcats played winning basketball for most of the 40 minutes in the victory over North Dakota and should be playing in front of a better home crowd thanks to the more convenient time slot and nicer weather forecast.
After building on some things from the Southern Illinois win, UK will look to continue their growth against the Southern Conference opponent.
Nuts and Bolts
VMI is a member of the Southern Conference (known to many as the SoCon) and they’ve had some really rough years in the recent past. Penn State alum and former Parade-All American Dan Earl is in his fourth season in Lexington, Virginia and under his watch the Keydets have not won more than nine games in a single season. Thanks to a hot 3-1 start in November, VMI is a third of the way there this season.
Under Dan Earl, who served as an assistant at Penn State and Navy before landing the VMI gig, the Keydets like to push the tempo and launch threes. In just four games, VMI has tossed up 107 three-point attempts despite hitting less than a third of their shots from deep. VMI runs a version on the Princeton offense so expect all five positions to be spaced with plenty of back cuts.
Despite the three early season wins, VMI has played only one game against respectable competition and there they were smoked. Against Pittsburgh, the Panthers rolled up 94 points in a 39-point blowout win. VMI current sits at 316 in KenPom’s rankings. There are only 353 teams in Division I.
Tonight will be the ninth meeting all-time between these two programs with Kentucky owning a 5-3 series lead. The last time the Keydets came to Lexington, they were able to pull the monster upset over Kentucky but we’ll just pretend that never happened.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is currently a 33-point favorite with a total of 152.5. That’s a projected final score of 93-60. Kentucky is 1-2 against the number while VMI is 1-1. In their only games as an underdog this season, the Keydets lost by nearly 40 points as a 14-point dog.
With any offense that is perimeter oriented, you need guys who can make plays off of the bounce. That is exactly what Bubba Parham provides this offense.
The Snellville, Georgia native leads the team in scoring with 18 points a game and he does a good job in getting to the free throw line. The sophomore is tiny at 5-foot-11 and 155 pounds, but he has a chance to be an all-conference performer for the Keydets.
Joining him on the perimeter will be Greg Parham who is a 6-foot-4 guard who can play both backcourt spots. The sophomore from Virginia leads the squad in minutes played. He’s putting up 12 points per game and has some heat check ability.
With no major senior contributors, VMI is one of the youngest teams in the country and usually that means bad news for mid-major programs. The same thing is true for the VMI frontcourt.
Jake Stephens is the only center on the roster and he does not even start for the Keydets. That should tell you that they prefer to play small ball.
VMI’s best big is 6-foot-10 junior Tyler Creammer, but he is off to a very slow start to this season. The North Carolina native is only shooting .375 from the field and the Keydets desperately need him to shake out of this slump.
Creammer’s play should tell you it all about the current VMI frontcourt situation. The Keydets are just not getting good play from their bigs to this point in the season. Rebounding is a major issue and VMI will have their hands full in the paint on Sunday evening in Rupp Arena.
Keys to Victory
- This evening Kentucky will be facing one of the least talented teams they’ll face all season. VMI is a very young team that is in rebuild mode. The Wildcats must use this 40 minutes as time to solidify their identity. In consecutive wins over Southern Illinois and North Dakota, the Wildcats dominated the glass and guarded without fouling. They must continue to do that and then we’ll have the season’s first positive trend.
- Kentucky has gotten solid play from Immanuel Quickley the last two games, but sooner or later Ashton Hagans needs to chip in. The five-star point guard from Georgia has gotten off to a very slow start and UK desperately needs him to contribute. Facing an opposing perimeter lineup with a lot of undersized players, Hagans should be able to get to the cup and make some good things happen.
- We’ve seen excellent stretches from E.J. Montgomery the last two games and saw career games from Nick Richards and P.J. Washington during this home stand. However, we haven’t seen a breakout performance from Reid Travis after a solid outing in the blowout loss to Duke. The Stanford grad transfer is still UK’s best offensive option on the low block and Kentucky still needs to do a better job at getting the senior paint touches.
- As always in these types of games, Kentucky needs to play with energy. For this team to grow, they need to play hard and together. After gaining some momentum in the last two games they need to keep it rolling on this Sunday evening.