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KY Insider Preview: Kentucky vs. Arkansas

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Kentucky is coming off I believe one of their two best performances (both coming in the last 9 days) with an 80-53 thumping of Auburn. In their first game without Travis Reid, the Cats shot astoundingly well form three hitting their 2nd most in a game this season, and absolutely dominating the Tigers on the boards.

Arkansas is coming into Rupp on Tuesday on a 5 game losing streak. Arkansas currently sits at 10th place in the SEC with a 14-13 (5-9 SEC) record. ESPN’s power index is giving Kentucky a 95.6% chance to win however, Arkansas was at one point in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid and has an All-SEC first team player in Daniel Gafford. Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

Daniel Gafford

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The 6-11 sophomore forward is playing like an All-SEC First Team player this year. As a freshman, Gafford received SEC All-Freshman honors on 11.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.2 bpg, and 60.5% FG. This year Gafford has increased his production and is averaging a near double-double with 16.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.0 bpg, and 66.3% FG.

Gafford is the biggest part of the Razorback team as their leading scorer, an elite rim protector, and collecting nearly 25% of the team’s rebounds. Getting Gafford in foul trouble or wearing him out in the post will pretty much guarantee a Kentucky win on Tuesday.

Rebounding

Kentucky has been a beast on the glass this season and that doesn’t need to change on Tuesday night. The Razorbacks are not a great rebounding team as their second-leading rebounder is a guard, Mason Jones. However, Daniel Gafford is the leading rebounder in the SEC at 8.9 per game and keeping him off the glass will be key in completely shutting out Arkansas.

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Force Turnovers

Arkansas is one of the worst teams in the SEC at turning the ball over with an average of 13.8 per game. Gafford averages 2.7 turnovers with the rest coming from the Razorback guards. Kentucky’s defense should be able to pressure the Razorbacks and force plenty of turnovers. Ashton Hagans should be able to add to his steal total with quite a few steals in this game.

Let PJ Get His

It is no secret that PJ Washington is playing as well and as dominant as anyone in the country at the moment. Arkansas doesn’t really have anyone to matchup against PJ. With his historically great shooting season, he is capable of pulling Gafford out of the paint and giving others inside opportunities or driving right by him. If PJ were to get matched up with Arkansas’ other starting forward, 6-6 Adrio Bailey, PJ should have a field day in the post. PJ will likely see a mixture of both but I expect PJ to exploit them and to dominate as he has since the start of SEC play.

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Give Nick and EJ Some Confidence

Arkansas is ranked 66th in the KenPom rankings and on paper, this should be the easiest game left on Kentucky’s regular season schedule. Outside of Gafford, Arkansas doesn’t have a good defensive quality big man and will be matched up with PJ a lot. With Reid out it is important to get Richards and Montgomery involved and give them the chance to play well and gain some confidence before tournament play.

Take Care of the Ball

One of the few areas that Arkansas does excel in is getting steals. Arkansas is top 25 in the country at stealing the ball with 8.9 per game. The Razorbacks don’t have a single player that is considered a “pickpocket” but they are able to get into passing lanes. Kentucky will need to execute and throw strong and smart passes (please improve on entry passes).

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Prediction

Arkansas has had one quality win all year, with a 90-89 win at LSU. The Razorbacks are a terrible shooting team in all areas shooting 44.5% FG, 66.2% FT, and 32.4% 3P. With the way the Cats are playing they shouldn’t have much trouble and should be able to get another comfortable win at Rupp and Cal one win closer to no. 300.

Kentucky-73 Arkansas-48

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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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