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TV Info and Three Things to Watch: Kentucky vs. Gonzaga

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UK Athletics

After beating South Carolina State on Thursday, 106-63, the Kentucky Wildcats look to start a winning streak and pick up their first-ranked win of the season against the No. 2-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Both Kentucky and Gonzaga are 2-1, with losses to ranked teams. However, the Bulldogs did beat the same Michigan State team that Kentucky lost to on Tuesday.

Sunday night’s game will be the first game of the new six-year series, and the Wildcats will look to go up 2-0 in the all-time series record, with Kentucky beating the Bulldogs in their first matchup in 2002.

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Entering the game with each team having struggles of their own, it will be an interesting battle. Let’s take a deeper look at things to look for on Sunday night.

Oscar Tshiebwe vs Drew Timme

Two of the best big men in the country will go head-to-head on Sunday, Oscar Tshiebwe and Drew Timme.

Tshiebwe missed the first two games of the season recovering from minor knee surgery, but already looks to be close to his old form. In his season debut against Michigan State, Tshibwe put up 22 points and 18 rebounds. However, he played just 14 minutes against South Carolina State in order to rest for Sunday’s matchup.

As for Timme, he has been equally as impressive and looks to have even gotten better, averaging a career-high 20.7 points (34th in the NCAA) on 60.5 percent shooting from the field.

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However, the two have played before back in 2020 when Tshiebwe was still with West Virginia. In that game, Gonzaga won in a close one 87-82, as Timme recorded 17 points and 3 rebounds, compared to Tshiebwe’s 14 points and 9 rebounds.

John Calipari has seen a similar matchup before, “It was Marcus Camby and Tim Duncan… You would have thought no one else was in the game and there were no coaches. It was one-on-one.”

Which player will get the upper hand?

Can Kentucky take advantage of Gonzaga’s guard play?

While Drew Timme will do Drew Timme things, Gonzaga does not have the guard they have had in recent seasons.

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Despite four of their five leading scorers being guards, the Bulldogs do not have a true point guard. In fact, there are only three players for Gonzaga averaging more than 2 assists per game, and two of them are forwards.

With that said, Julian Strawther is the Bulldog’s clear second option, but things get cloudy behind him between Nolan Hickman, Hunter Salis, and Malachi Smith.

Despite still looking for their balance, Sahvir Wheeler and Cason Wallace have proven to be the better guards thus far. If they can produce and play good defense as they have, Kentucky will be in good shape.

Can Kentucky force turnovers and generate offense?

One of Gonzaga’s biggest weaknesses thus far has been their lack of ball security, as they turn the ball over as much as anyone in the country. In fact, they average 17.3 turnovers per game, ranking 324th in the country.

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Just in their last two games alone against Michigan State and Texas, Gonzaga has recorded 18 and 20 turnovers, giving up an average of twenty points off turnovers. The main source for these turnovers, especially against Texas, has been defensive pressure.

With their length and size, Kentucky should be able to force Gonzaga into some turnovers, especially if they bring pressure as they have at times this season.

This would be very beneficial if the Wildcats were to struggle in the half-court offense, as their defense would provide them with some transition scoring opportunities and open up the floor.

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Time/Date: 7:30 pm ET November 20th
Location: Spokane Arena in Spokane, Washington
TV Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Jon Sciambi and Jimmy Dykes are on the call.
Online Stream: WatchESPNESPN+, SEC Network+, or the ESPN app.
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens will have the UK radio network call on WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, and the UK Sports Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Rosters: UK | GU
Stats To Know: UK | GU
Team SheetsUK | GU
Live Stats

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Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has Gonzaga -3ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Wildcats just a 22.3% chance of winning, and Bart Torvik has it at 24%. KenPom has it at a more friendly 44%.

PredictionsBart Torvik has Kentucky losing with a final score of 83-75, while KenPom went with a 79-78 margin for the Zags. TeamRankings is going Gonzaga 79-76.

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

WKU Coach Rick Stansbury Says Dontaie Allen Was Ineligible to Play at Kentucky Last Season, UK Received Fine

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Instagram/Dontaie Allen

Former Kentucky Wildcat, Dontaie Allen, had a rocky time in Lexington to say it best, averaging just 4 .2 points in 10.6 minutes per game. This led him to look for a change of scenery, and he ultimately transferred to Western Kentucky.

Through three games, Allen is averaging 8 points per game on 44 percent shooting from three, yet he hasn’t played since November 12th and has missed four straight games. Why?

On November 21st, Western Kentucky’s official Twitter account released a statement that explained that Allen was not available due to “an eligibility matter related to his previous school [Kentucky].”

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While that left plenty of questions to be asked, WKU head coach Rick Stansbury addressed them on Saturday after the Hilltoppers beat South Carolina State.

Stansbury claims that Kentucky unknowingly allowed Dontaie Allen, who he says was also unaware, to play while ineligible during last season’s fall semester. While no specifics were given, Stansbury says the eligibility concerns arise from grade issues that were not found until Allen entered his name into the transfer portal.

As a result, Kentucky was fined $500 for each game Allen appeared in during the fall semester (seven games; $3,500 total fine), despite playing limited minutes. However, a decision has yet to be reached on Allen’s current eligibility status.

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Kentucky Basketball Introduces Most Impactful Player Belt, Oscar Tshiebwe First Winner

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Twitter/UK Sports Network

On Thanksgiving Eve the Kentucky Wildcats got back to their winning ways as they beat the North Florida Ospreys 96-56 in impressive fashion.

Of course in the process, Oscar Tshiebwe, got his usual double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds. After the game, Tshiebwe was seen sporting some new hardware called the “Most Impactful Player (MIP) Belt”.

In his postgame press conference, John Calipari talked about the new award that will be given out following each win this season. “Now we have a belt that we give out after wins, the most impactful player. Who impacted the game. The staff gets it and it’s a big shiny belt. Maybe they will show you,” Calipari said.

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Despite twenty-point games from Jacob Toppin (also recorded a double-double) and Antonio Reeves, Calipari attributed Thsiebwe with doing the extra things.

“He[Tshiebwe] was the most impactful, not because of points and rebounds, because he had five assists, he had three steals, and two blocks. That’s impacting the game. He’ll have the belt until the next win. You don’t get, no belts on a loss. But maybe if he didn’t take it already, because he wore it. He was wearing it around the locker room.”

It will be interesting to see which players win this award over the course of the season, but as valuable as Tshiebwe is, it is safe to assume he will have the belt a lot.

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Examining Which Lineups Worked Against Gonzaga, Shot Selection Comparison

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UK Athletics

The Kentucky Wildcats have looked dominant against inferior competition. In three games against sub-100 KenPom teams, the Wildcats have averaged 92.7 points on 52.9 percent shooting from the field and 47.8 percent from three, while only giving up 59.3 points per game.

However, against their two ranked opponents, Kentucky has looked vastly different on both ends of the floor. In those games, the Wildcats have averaged 74.5 points per contest on 39.6 percent shooting from the field and 26 percent from three, while giving up 82.5 points per game.

Struggling to find their early season footing, John Calipari is still experimenting with lineups and has cited injuries and a lack of practice time as reasons for this.

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With that being said, let’s take a look at what lineups did and did not work against Gonzaga, as well as the shot selection.

Offensive Lineups

Following the Gonzaga game, there was one fan that compared the Kentucky offense to a “chicken running around with its head cut off”. At times it certainly looked like that.

Just take a look at the first offensive possession of the game. After getting the tip, the Wildcats forced a busted play and shot a contested three at the end of the shot clock.

This obviously is not the offense that Calipari wants. After the game, Calipari said that this specific play was one they had gone over in the huddle just seconds before tipoff and that he was “embarrassed” at the lack of execution.

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So which lineups executed the best?

  • Wheeler-Wallace-Fredrick-Toppin-Tshiebwe: 20 possessions played, 31.6% FG, 14.3% 3P, .7 points per possession, Zero TOs,
  • Wallace-Fredrick-Reeves-Toppin-Tshiebwe: 20 possessions played, 56.3% FG, 60% 3P, 1.05 points per possession, 4 TOs,
  • Wallace-Fredrick-Reeves-Toppin-Ware: 12 possessions played, 18.2% FG, 0% 3P, .5 points per possession, TOs, Zero TOs
  • Reeves-Fredrick-Livingston-Toppin-Tshiebwe: 8 possessions played, 25% FG, 0% 3P, .5 points per possession, 2 TOs,

Unsurprisingly, the best lineup in terms of production featured Wallace-Fredrick-Reeves-Toppin-Tshiebwe, five players that are a threat to score in a variety of ways. This lineup was the only Kentucky lineup that average more than 1 point per possession.

The other most played lineup was similar but included Wheeler instead of Reeves. This isn’t to say that this lineup did not do good things, as there were no turnovers and the second-most points per possession. However, Gonzaga was able to sag off Wheeler, and could put more effort into guarding Fredrick and Tshiebwe in that lineup.

Proving himself as one of the best ball distributors in the country in back-to-back seasons, Wheeler deserves to play, but Calipari needs to scheme around his weaknesses, which he suggested he is doing on Monday’s call-in show.

Defensive Lineups

With the size and length of this roster, this year’s Kentucky Wildcats has the chance to be one of the best defensive teams of the Calipari era. However, they are from that at the moment.

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Against Gonzaga, Kentucky rarely forced the Bulldogs into difficult shots. In fact, of their 88 points, they scored 44 of them in the paint.

With that said, Kentucky did have some lineups that were effective, but at the cost of offense. With the two aforementioned lineups above, Gonzaga forced the ball over, but still averaged more than 1 point per possession and shot well over 50 percent from the field.

  • Wallace-Fredrick-Reeves-Toppin-Tshiebwe: 20 possessions played, 58.3% FG, 1.2 points per possession, 4 forced TOs
  • Wheeler-Wallace-Fredrick-Toppin-Tshiebwe: 18 possessions played, 70% FG, 1.056 points per possession, 7 forced TOs
  • Wallace-Fredrick-Reeves-Toppin-Ware: 12 possessions played, 37.5% FG, .667 points per possession, 8 forced TOs
  • Reeves-Fredrick-Livingston-Toppin-Tshiebwe: 6 possessions played, 25% FG, .667 points per possession, 4 forced TOs

The two lineups that were effective included Ware and Livingston, and the one common denominator they bring is toughness.

Ware can be played in spurts, but has shown that he exceeds primarily on offense in pick-and-roll situations. Whereas Livingston is just a freshman and still has room to grow his offensive game, but hasn’t gotten the game time to do so.

Also, as the season goes along and he develops, don’t be surprised to see Ugonna Onyenso in some situations due to his elite shot-blocking ability.

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Shot Selection

The shot chart on the left is against South Carolina State, just days before the matchup with Gonzaga, which shot chart is on the right.

What is the difference?

On the left, is the ideal modern offensive shot chart, showing strictly threes and shots inside the paint. In that game, Kentucky scored 80 of their 106 points in the paint or from three, showing that they played efficiently.

Whereas, on the right, shots are scattered across the county including plenty of mid-range shots. This shows just how much duress the offense was in.

Obviously, there is a different level of defense that the Wildcats are playing in each of the shot charts. With that said, ineffective lineups and lack of execution amplify the problems.

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