Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Off to its first 5-0 start since the 1996-97 campaign, the Eastern Michigan Eagles fly into legendary Rupp Arena to challenge the third-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in the final game of the Keightley Challenge.
This is EMU's first road test of the season, and it couldn't come in a tougher spot as Kentucky is not only one of the top teams in the nation, but also protects its home floor with fierce determination. The Eagles have logged three double-digit wins this season, although their most recent outing wasn't one of them as they beat UT-Arlington, 74-69, last Saturday. In addition to this bout, the Green and White will also take on UMass, Purdue, Duke and Syracuse before beginning Mid-American Conference play at Bowling Green on Jan. 8, 2014.
With the exception of their last game, a 68-61 win over Cleveland State on Monday, the Wildcats have cruised in their victories, while their lone setback came on a neutral court to fellow national power and current No. 1 team, Michigan State (78-74). Kentucky was the top team in the land at the time of that meeting. The Wildcats, who just two seasons ago won yet another national title, are hoping to make a return to prominence, but will have to get past notable foes like Baylor, North Carolina and Louisville, not to mention upset- minded Providence and Belmont, prior to tipping off SEC action at home against Mississippi State on Jan. 8, 2014.
These two teams met for the first time last season, with Kentucky winning at home in a rout, 90-38.
With an unblemished record after the first few weeks of the season, it's no surprise to see the Eagles performing well at both ends of the floor. They average 79.2 ppg while allowing 59.4 ppg, and there are three double-digit scorers on the roster, led by Karrington Ward with his 18.2 ppg. Raven Lee () and Glenn Bryant (12.3 ppg) round out the offensive-minded trio, and all three are shooting better than 54 percent from the field, with Karrington and Lee both hitting in excess of 53 percent of their 3-point attempts. The team has excelled despite a negative rebounding differential (-1.0), but they are +6.4 in turnover margin, goading the opposition into more than 17 miscues per outing. Lee went off in the recent win over UT-Arlington, scoring a career- high 38 points by going 12-of-15 from the field, hitting all five of his 3- point tries, and converting 9-of-12 free throws.
Kentucky too has maximized its talents at both ends of the court, lighting up the scoreboard for 86.0 ppg while permitting just 64.0 ppg on typical shooting outputs of .363 overall and .308 from beyond the arc. While they themselves hit better than 47 percent of their total shots, the Wildcats have actually performed worse than their opponents from downtown (.305). A resounding +16.7 rebounding margin has played an enormous role in keeping the wins coming, as is the fact that the team boasts four double-digit scorers, led by freshman sensation Julius Randle (19.8 ppg, 13.8 rpg). Arguably one of the top-two or three players in the country right now, the 6-foot-9 Dallas native is hitting 55.4 percent of his field goal attempts, and nearly 74 percent of his free throws (47-of-64), which he has nearly twice as many attempts as his closest teammate. Randle logged yet another double-double in the recent win over Cleveland State, tallying 15 points to go with 15 boards. James Young (13.3 ppg), Aaron Harrison (12.2 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (11.2 ppg, 3.8 apg) make up the rest of the core of a very talented, but young Kentucky squad.