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Eastern Kentucky first of several cupcakes coming up for Calipari’s Cats

Nate Sestina had a big role in UK’s win over Michigan State. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer

The Cats cleared a huge hurdle at the Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. Other than a 2 point lead in the opening minute of the game, Kentucky never trailed the Spartans after moving on top 5-4 after the first two scoring possessions of the game. These Cats played with the toughness that Coach Calipari has spent the preseason period insisting that this team must have.

No. 1 versus No. 2 collisions are rare in college basketball, and for a No. 1 versus No. 2 to occur for the first game of the season is so rare that this is only the second time in about 50 years. Michigan State was the preseason No. 1 team with a veteran team that finished last season in the Final Four. This Kentucky team controlled the pace of the game with strong defense, and played in the lead with confidence and effectiveness.

Prior to the season, Pomeroy projected UK as a favorite in 30 of the 31 regular season games, with this opening game encounter as the one game in which UK was not the favored team. As the Cats return to Lexington, having dethroned No. 1, the BBN’s expectation that the basketball world will confer the new No. 1 status to these Cats. Looking ahead, the Cats are in a very strong position to hang on to the top ranking for a long time.

Yes, the Cats will play their usual, highly competitive schedule again this season, but the next seven opponents are in the category often called cupcakes. Starting five weeks from Saturday, the Cat’s enter the heart of their non-conference schedule by facing in order Georgia Tech, Utah, Ohio St., and Louisville. Then the Cats enter what is shaping up to be a brutal SEC run on January 4.

The Cats have 5 weeks and 7 games to iron out any wrinkles it has in their game, allow the players to climb up their personal learning curves, and to meld into a team. The hard work occurs during practice sessions between these game, and the games provide coaches the opportunity to identify the wrinkles and address them in practice. The first opponent in this phase of the season will be EKU.

EKU also opened its season on Tuesday night when it beat #288 Chattanooga by 11 points, 79-68, in a game played at a 81 possession tempo. Following its win, EKU stands at #260 in Pomeroy’s ranking with an ANE of -0.149 points per possession (ppp). The Cats enter this game with an ANE of 0.290 ppp. In my opinion, this game should happen at a tempo of about 72 possessions with the Cats winning by 34 points, 90-56.

2 comments

  1. I might be the only one that didn’t know EJ was supposedly injured. Didn’t think he worked hard enough to get hurt.

  2. Analysis:

    UK scored its 91 points in a total of 83 possessions (1.096 ppp) for the game, and Eastern Kentucky scored its 49 points on a total of 85 possessions (0.576 ppp).

    Kentucky won the battle of the boards, with a rebounding edge 54-25, and the Cats won the battle of the offensive glass 12-4. Kentucky used its 12 second chance possessions to score 9 second chance points while EKU did not score on any of their 4 second chances. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed 36.4% of its misses as offensive rebounds while Eastern Kentucky was able to convert 8.7% of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.

    UK hit poorly from the free throw line in this game, making 21-32 [65.6%]. Eastern Kentucky made 9-11 [81.8%] for the game. Field goal shooting for UK was 34-62 overall [54.8%] and 2-14 from long range [14.3%]. For Eastern Kentucky, their field goal shooting from inside the arc was 8-31 [25.8%] and from long range, Eastern Kentucky hit 8-33 [24.2%].

    The Cats committed 18 turnovers, one for every 4.6 possessions. The Cats forced 21 Eastern Kentucky turnovers, one for every 4.0 possessions.

    Next Game On Schedule: Tuesday night against Evansville in the third game of the 2019-20 regular season.

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