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Kentucky vs. Arkansas, Round 2: TV/Streaming Info, Keys to the Game, and Predictions

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The Kentucky Wildcats will look to sweep the season series against the Arkansas Razorbacks, as they faceoff in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
Nelson Chenault - USA TODAY Sports

What a two-game stretch it has been for the Kentucky Wildcats. First dominating the SEC leader Alabama, followed by a game-winner at Mississippi State. With two straight wins, the Wildcats have the opportunity to extend their winning streak to three games, which would be their longest of 2024, as Arkansas comes to Rupp Arena on Saturday.

This will be the second matchup of the season between the two teams, with Kentucky getting a 63-57 win at Arkansas in a College Gameday matchup back in January. Since then, things have gone from bad to worse for Eric Musselman and the Razorbacks. In the eight-game stretch since, they have gone just 4-4, with two of their wins coming against Missouri, who is winless in the SEC this season. They are coming off a home loss to Vanderbilt, where they trailed for more than half of the game.

While Arkansas is trending down, Kentucky is trending up and this is a game the Wildcats should control for the majority of the contest, especially at home.

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Let’s look at the matchup.

Frontcourt Rotation

The most interesting development for Kentucky of late has been the frontcourt rotation. Just a few weeks ago, it looked as if Ugonna Onyenso would assume the role of the primary big. While he has started nine straight games, he has played 15 minutes or less in the last two games, with Zvonimir Ivisic playing setting season-highs in minutes in each game.

Ivisic certainly helps raise Kentucky’s offense when he is on the court, but the question has been his defense. Against Mississippi State, he was analytically Kentucky’s best defense with the best defensive rating and stoppage rate on the team. Each big brings different strengths, but if Ivisic can continue to become more comfortable on the defensive end, his versatility on offense may give him the edge.

This conversation excludes Tre Mitchell who has returned to practice and is expected to return soon. He has yet to play extended minutes with either big Onyenso or Ivisic since hitting their stride. It will be interesting to see how he will fit in certain lineups and in the rotation.

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Good Start, End it Early

Unlike the first game where there was some hope Arkansas could turn their season around, things are much bleaker this time around. While they still have talent, the Razorbacks are now 14-14 on the year and certainly won’t make the NCAA Tournament barring a miraculous run.

With little morale surrounding Arkansas basketball and rumors Musselman may leave after the season (potentially Louisville…), this is a game Kentucky needs to win at home and put away early, not giving them any confidence. That begins with a good start to the game which has been an inconsistency for the Wildcats this year. Entering March, they need to be consistent in that, rather than putting themselves in a hole to start each game.

Rebounding Battle

Arkansas is not a good rebounding team, but they still outrebounded Kentucky in the first game. This time around, Kentucky is more experienced and better equipped to handle the physicality the Razorbacks will look to play with.

Limiting Arkansas to just one possession and getting defensive rebounds to push it in transition will be a big part of Kentucky’s game plan.

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Opposing Players to Watch

G Tramon Mark, 6-6, 185 lbs

  • 16.8 PPG (8th in SEC)
  • 49.3% FG (9th in SEC)
  • 38.0% 3P (20th in SEC)
  • Coming off 42-point and 36-point performances.

G Khalif Battle, 6-5, 185 lbs

  • 12.7 PPG
  • 37.8% 3P (22nd in SEC)

F Makhi Mitchell, 6-10, 240 lbs

Averages over the last 9 games

  • 12.4 PPG
  • 7.7 RPG
  • 1.4 BPG

Kentucky Basketball vs. Arkansas Razorbacks

  • Date: Saturday, March 2nd, 2024
  • Time: 1:30 PM ET
  • Location: Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center in Lexington, Kentucky.
  • TV Channel: CBS
  • Online Stream: CBS Sports and the CBS Sports app.
  • Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the radio call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
  • Replay: CBS Sports app check local listings.
  • Rosters: UK | ARK
  • Stats to Know: UK | ARK
  • KenPom: UK | ARK
  • Team Sheets: UK | ARK
  • Odds: The odds have yet to be officially released, but the line is expected to be around -10.5 Kentucky. ESPN gives Kentucky a 70.7% chance of winning this road contest. EvanMiya gives the Cats a 70.5% chance of victory. Bart Torvik has it at 73%, and KenPom is at 73%.
  • Predictions: Bart Torvik picks Kentucky to win on the road, 89-81, with Haslametrics providing a similar score projection, 89-79. However, EvanMiya has the Cats winning just 85-79. KenPom is going with an 87-80 victory, Kentucky!

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Rick Pitino Endorses Mark Pope, “He Will Lead The Kentucky Wildcats To Another Championship”

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Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports/ Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The captain of Rick Pitino’s 1996 “Untouchables”, Mark Pope, is “coming home” to lead the Kentucky Wildcats as the program’s next head coach, officially announced on Friday. While there has been some criticism of the hire, Pitino says he “couldn’t be any prouder to see Mark Pope lead the Kentucky Wildcats.”

While Pope has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in two appearances, Pitino points out that several top coaches had their trials early in their careers. It took Jay Wright 11 seasons to win his first NCAA Tournament, and Billy Donovan was hired at Florida without an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, he heralds Pope as one of the “premier young coaches” in college basketball.

“Offensively, no one does it better,” Pitino said. “The way his teams move. The way his teams shoot the three. The ball movement. It’s outstanding.”

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It’s just the X’s and O’s though, Pitino “guarantees” that Pope loves and understands the program as well as anyone. “I can guarantee to you one thing, that nobody epitomizes the name on the front of the jersey more than Mark Pope.”

“Mark Pope will go on to greatness. You can put it down,” Pitino said. “He will do you proud. “He will lead the Kentucky Wildcats to another championship”

If his endorsement isn’t enough, Rick Pitino says he will “write the check himself” for NIL to help Pope be successful.

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Men's Basketball

Mark Pope Releases Statement As He Is Announced As Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Per UK Athletics

When his alma mater came calling, Mark Pope knew there was no place like home.

Pope, a captain of the University of Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship team, has returned to Lexington as the 23rd head coach of Kentucky’s storied men’s basketball program, announced Friday.

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“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball,” Pope said. “It’s the definition of a blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation every year. Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.”

“I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Pope is a nine-year head coaching veteran with stops at BYU and Utah Valley, amassing a 187-108 career record. His squads won 20 or more games in six of the last seven seasons and he has made six postseason appearances.

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Men's Basketball

REPORT: Mark Pope Set Sign Five-Year Deal to Become Next Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky has found their guy. Former Wildcat and NCAA Champion, Mark Pope, is now expected to be named the next Kentucky basketball coach on a five-year contract worth $5.5 million annually, first reported by CBS Sports. For perspective, based on last season’s salaries, that is more than Dan Hurley (UConn), Scott Drew (Baylor), and Nate Oats (Alabama).

Pope comes to Kentucky with nine seasons of head coaching experience, after serving as an assistant for six seasons, from 2009-2015. In 2015, he was hired by Utah Valley where he coached for four seasons. In 2019, Pope was hired at BYU where he has taken them to two NCAA Tournaments, but has been upset by a double-digit seed in both appearances.

Pope has proven himself as a good X-and-O coach in his nine-year career, running one of the most innovative offenses in the country, but recruiting will be a real test as he has never signed a four-star recruit. Who he hires on to his staff and collecting NIL support will be critical.

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The move has been met with much fan criticism, as fans have been quick to point out that Pope has never won a conference title or an NCAA Tournament game. However, Mitch Barnhart is confident in the move, with some reporting that he is “excited” with the hire.

Just three days into the coaching search, this is an interesting hire with several big names like Billy Donovan and Bruce Pearl potentially available. Barnhart made the decision not to wait for Donovan, who is currently coaching the Chicago Bulls, and Pearl was not considered due to his “baggage”.

A new era of Kentucky basketball has begun.

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