Big Blue Nation will likely never be fully satisfied with the Kentucky Basketball schedule. There are always too many “cupcakes,” not enough marquee home games, or a myriad of other things to complain about.
However, this season’s schedule seems to be built about as well as you could ask for as a fan of the ‘Cats. Kentucky opened the season with a pair of weaker opponents. Those games helped shake some early-season nerves before the Champions Classic against #1 Kansas. Then, the Wildcats hosted the weakest team on their schedule as a get-right spot after the Jayhawks. This week, there are two quality mid-major programs to get Kentucky playing well ahead of Miami (FL) coming to town. These two matchups are important measuring sticks before the next big test.
Yes, it is Feast Week and the Wildcats are once again not participating. Coach Calipari doesn’t want to play in the Maui Invitational, NIT Tip-Off, or any of the other great tournaments being played this week. As the boss, that is his prerogative. Kentucky vs. Saint Joseph’s and Marshall may not have the ring to it as Purdue vs. Gonzaga or some of the other marquee matchups we get this week nationally. However, the ‘Cats non-conference schedule is certainly no joke. There are no more cakewalks. The rest of the Wildcats’ opponents are against solid programs in the KenPom Top 200. A few of them, even aside from the big names, are potential NCAA Tournament teams. Taking care of business in convincing fashion this week means you are ready for the Hurricanes.
As we do each Monday, it is time to take a look ahead at the week as it pertains to the Kentucky Basketball program. We will highlight the biggest storyline currently surrounding the team, quickly preview the week’s upcoming opponents, and take a broader look around the Southeastern Conference. Finally, in a new segment this season, we will give out a few of Brandon’s Best Bets. By the way, we are 6-0 to start the year in those picks! Let’s dive into another edition of This Week in Kentucky Basketball.
Top Kentucky Basketball Storyline: Aaron Bradshaw’s Rumored Return
In many ways, this will be the biggest Kentucky Basketball storyline until it actually happens. However, Matt Jones teased on the radio that Aaron Bradshaw may return as early as Friday, November 24th against Marshall. That would serve as his “rehab start” prior to facing the Miami Hurricanes next week. We have more on the Bradshaw timeline saga over on KSBoard.
The sooner the ‘Cats can get their 7’1″ five-star center on the floor the better. First of all, it calms all of the fears among the fanbase. We will be able to put to rest the “here we go again” attitude following the Shaedon Sharpe situation. However, most importantly, it will immediately raise this team’s ceiling on the hardwood. Bradshaw gives you an elite rim protector and lob threat from day one. While he isn’t Tre Mitchell offensively, he has at least flashed the skill level to play a poor man’s version in Kentucky’s new 5-out system. He won’t be the pick-and-pop threat or the high-level passer that Mitchell is, but he can be a vertical threat on the roll and still be serviceable in ballscreen, handoff, zoom, and get action actions on the perimeter.
It is certainly understandable to take the approach of “I’ll believe it when I see it” given the recent history of Kentucky Basketball injury news. However, it at least appears this situation is trending in the right direction. Ultimately, will we see Aaron Bradshaw suit up this week? In the famous words of our friend Freddie Maggard, “We’ll see.”
This Week in Kentucky Basketball: Saint Joseph’s and Marshall
Expectations are high in Philadelphia this season. On paper, this Saint Joseph’s Hawks team should be the best since Coach Phil Martelli led them to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2016. They have some of the best roster continuity in all of college basketball and feature arguably the best backcourt in the Atlantic 10. It is an important season for Coach Billy Lange as well. In his fifth season with the Hawks, Coach Lange has yet to finish .500 or win double-digit conference games. However, it has been a steady climb. After two total rebuilding seasons, the Hawks have been competitive the last two years. This time around though there are high expectations for a program with a history of success.
Per KenPom, Saint Joseph’s is 12th nationally in roster continuity returning over 70% of their minutes from last season. Two of those returners are Erik Reynolds and Cameron Brown who were selected to the preseason first and third All-Atlantic 10 teams, respectively. Those two averaged a combined 32.9 points per game last season and are a major reason why this team is expected to compete toward the top of the A-10.
Coach Lange runs an analytics-friendly offense that relies heavily on three-point shots and layups. Saint Joe’s is currently 14th in three-point rate nationally and scores 39.5% of their points from deep. However, as witnessed in their home loss to Texas A&M-Commerce, the Hawks are susceptible to going cold as well. With their style of play, this is a team capable of beating any team in the country, but also capable of losing to any team in the country.
As for the Marshall Thundering Heard, few mid-majors had a tougher off-season. They lost a pair of 20+ point-per-game scorers as Taevion Kinsey went to the NBA and Andrew Taylor transferred to Mississippi State. Furthermore, Micah Handlogten, arguably the best freshman in the Sun Belt last season, hit the portal and landed at Florida. It was a devastating blow to Coach D’Antoni’s offense. They will still play at one of the fastest paces in the country, but the talent isn’t the same. The Thundering Herd, who play FIU on Monday night, are ranked 220th currently in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. For comparison, last season they finished 69th. It’ll be a bit of a rebuilding year for Marshall this season.
Around the Southeastern Conference
- It is time to give Coach Lamont Paris and the South Carolina Gamecocks their flowers. They are now 5-0 after winning the Arizona Tip-Off. The Gamecocks defeated VMI, DePaul, and Grand Canyon. B.J. Mack is playing like an All-SEC candidate and their guard play is legitimately good.
- As impressive as South Carolina was over the week, the Missouri Tigers were on the other end of the spectrum. They got knocked off by previously 0-5 Jackson State on Sunday evening.
- Speaking of upsets, #14 Arkansas fell to UNC-Greensboro on Friday. The Razorbacks shot 4-23 from three-point range. They play Stanford on Wednesday in their first game at the Battle 4 Atlantis then host Duke next week.
- Florida blew out Florida State on Friday to move to 3-1 on the young season. The Gators will take part in the NIT Season Tip-Off this week.
- Alabama continues to put up some massive offensive numbers. The Crimson Tide scored 100+ in their first three games and then put up 98 in a win over Mercer. Their matchup with Ohio State on Friday will be their first real test of the season.
Brandon’s Best Bets
This new segment has started out with a bang going 6-0 across the first two Mondays of the college basketball season. As always all lines are presented by our friends at FanDuel. Let’s find some winners and cash some tickets together once again.
- Purdue -4.5 – The Boilermakers are an absolute wagon on both ends of the floor to start the season. Zach Edey is still doing Zach Edey things, Braden Smith looks like an All-Big Ten guard, and they are shooting the ball at a really high level. Just not sure where Gonzaga can find an advantage here on a neutral court. Lay the points for Purdue.
- Wright State +1.5 – It is always good when you can take the better team getting points. These two have a common opponent in Toledo. Both lost, and the transitive property doesn’t work well in sports, but Wright State looked much better than Louisiana. The Raiders are good offensively, especially from deep, and should score enough to defeat the Ragin’ Cajuns.