This is the Game everyone wanted, and this is the Game we’re getting. The preseason No. 1 Kentucky is set to face off with the undefeated Wichita State. If you said this matchup was going to happen before the season, these seedings would have probably been switched. Instead, the Shockers find themselves as -3.5 favorites against the Wildcats in the 1-8 matchup.
WSU won their first Game in dominant fashion, holding Cal Poly to 34 points on 20.7% from the field. They got out to an early lead and that was about all that was needed as no one on either roster played more than 28 minutes due to the Scoreimbalance.
While Kentucky’s win wasn’t as impressive, they got the job done and led for most of the Game. They didn’t shoot great, turned it over an unsettling amount (15 times), but still forced more fouls and dominated the boards. There’s no question, each team will face a tougher task in this next Game.
The main question for the Wildcats going into this one will be how they should guard Cleanthony Early. Early went for a ridiculous 23 points and seven rebounds in just 19 points in the first Game. His length and shooting ability gives most teams problems. Julius Randle has the size to deal with him down low, but he could have an issue guarding him outside of the paint.
On the other end of that, Randle gives any opposing teams a headache due to his bullish-like play. Randle went for 19 points and 15 boards against a Kansas State team that has some big bodies of their own. Early likely doesn’t have the muscle to handle him, so someone like Kadeem Coleby, Chadrack LUfile or even Darius Carter could be on Randle at some point. They’ll likely use an array of players to try and disrupt him.
There’s no question the Wildcats will have more size, also with Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress on the roster. Wichita State may not have that kind of size, but they are still a great rebounding team due to their effort and athleticism.
Kentucky also brings plenty of size on the perimeter with all three starting guards coming in at 6-6. The Shockers never faced that kind of size all season, especially in the Missouri Valley. The main difference between these teams is overall experience. WSU made a run to the Final 4 last year with a similar roster, while Kentucky played in the NIT and has a ton of freshman.
The guard combo of Fred VanVleet, Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker only scored 11 points in that first Game, but that was all that was needed. All of those guys average double digits and VanVleet is one of the most efficient point guards in the nation.
The same can’t be said about Andrew Harrison, who often has turnover problems and gave it away six times against K State. It’s going to depend on Aaron Harrison and James Young if they can hit their shots. Aaron found his stroke in the first Game, but Young didn’t.
Four of Wichita State’s starters can hit the long ball, which is going to create matchup problems. It’s whether the Shockers can handle the other end of the cOurt. The bullseye is still on their back and they’re out to show they are for real. As for the Wildcats, they have tons of talent, but can they put it all together? It hasn’t happened consistently this season.