Brooklyn, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Two teams off to impressive starts get together at the Barclays Center tonight, as the third-ranked Kentucky Wildcats clash with the Providence Friars.
Kentucky was the preseason No. 1 team in the land, and it jumped out to a 2-0 start following lopsided wins over UNC Asheville and Northern Kentucky. But then came a bout against Michigan State in Chicago, and it was the Spartans who came out on top in that one, 78-74. Since then however, the Wildcats have run off four straight victories, the latest being an 81-63 decision over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday.
Providence too has only one loss on the season, that coming in a 56-52 final versus Maryland last Monday. The setback snapped what had been a season- opening five-game win streak for the Friars, who bounced back from the recent loss to knock off Fairfield on Friday, 78-69.
Kentucky won the only other meeting between these two teams, slipping by the Friars, 79-78, during the 1976 NIT.
Kentucky's naysayers will tell you that outside of the Michigan State game, which they lost, the Wildcats haven't played anyone of significance this season. So with that, the team's gaudy scoring average of 85.3 ppg is somewhat hollow. Adding fuel to that fire is the fact that the young 'Cats are shooting just 28.9 percent from 3-point range and actually turn the ball over more than the opposition (13.0 tpg to 9.6 tpg). The team boasts four double-digit scorers, with Julius Randle putting up monster numbers in the first month of his collegiate career. Randle averages a double-double with 19.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per game, but he does give the ball away far too often, coughing it up 27 times, or nearly four times per game. Aaron Harrison (13.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg), James Young (12.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and Andrew Harrison (10.7 ppg, 3.7 apg) round out the offensive-minded quartet. UK recently logged the 500th win at legendary Rupp Arena with its double-digit decision over previously unbeaten Eastern Michigan. Aaron Harrison led four players in double figures, netting 22 points, while Randle finished with 14 points and 10 boards. Kentucky shot just 3-of-16 from long range, but held the Eagles to 36.4 percent field goal efficiency, which included a 4-of-19 showing from distance.
Providence has four double-digit scorers as well, with Bryce Cotton leading the way at 18.5 ppg. He also serves as the team's primary playmaker with 5.3 apg, but he is anything but a sure thing when it comes to shooting the basketball, connecting on only 37.1 percent of his field goal attempts, which includes a dismal 24.4 percent effort from beyond the arc. LaDonate Henton (13.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg), Kadeem Batts (13.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Tyler Harris (13.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) have all been productive for the Friars, who put up 73.2 ppg while allowing only 61.5 ppg. They are shooting just 41.1 percent from the floor, knocking down a meager 29.4 percent of their 3-point attempts, but they lay claim to positive margins in both rebounding (+6.6) and turnovers (+1.0). Cotton poured in a game-high 24 points in the recent win over Fairfield, and he was joined in double figures by the other four guys in the starting lineup. Providence won the game despite knocking down just 41.3 percent of its total shots, which included a 2-of-11 showing from beyond the arc. A substantial 38- of-45 effort at the foul line certainly helped the cause, as did a defensive effort that held the Stags to 38.9 percent field goal efficiency.