How Kentucky and Wichita State match up

mstory@herald-leader.comMarch 22, 2014 

POINT GUARD

Kentucky freshman Andrew Harrison said after Friday's NCAA Tournament round of 64 victory over Kansas State that he had hyper-extended his right elbow, but he expects to play Sunday. After recording 19 assists to nine turnovers in the SEC Tournament, Harrison struggled against K-State, going 1-for-6 from the field with one assist and five turnovers. In his last two games, the 6-foot-6 freshman is 2-for-11 from the floor. He'll need to play better if UK is to foil Wichita State's perfect season.

Fred VanVleet, a 5-foot-11 sophomore from gritty Rockford, Ill., is the heart and soul of Wichita State. The winner of the Larry Bird Player of the Year Award in the Missouri Valley Conference, VanVleet (11.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 187 assists to 47 turnovers) is unflappable under pressure. He hit the dagger three with 1:28 left in the game that propelled Wichita State to its upset of No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the 2013 NCAAs. This year, when WSU rallied from 18 down at halftime to beat Missouri State in overtime, VanVleet scored 11 points in a row late in regulation and in the OT.

Advantage: Wichita State

Shooting guard

UK's Aaron Harrison shot the ball well in the SEC Tournament (18-for-36, 9-for-20 three-pointers) and continued that against Kansas State. The 6-6 freshman was 6-for-10 from the field (2-for-4 on threes) against KSU while scoring 18 points.

Wichita State's floppy-haired Ron Baker has become something of a Shockers folk hero. An unheralded recruit whose parents paid his way to Wichita State while he redshirted as a true freshman, the 6-3 sophomore from tiny Scott City, Kan., is known as an outside shooter (37 percent on three-pointers) but is a better all-around player (12.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 110 assists vs. 59 turnovers) than many realize.

Advantage: Wichita State

Center

Willie Cauley-Stein came off the Kentucky bench against Kansas State to energize UK's defense. The 7-foot sophomore had only two points, but claimed eight rebounds, blocked four shots and made four steals. The Cats will need similar energy from Cauley-Stein on Sunday. Freshman Dakari Johnson started for UK but went scoreless for a second straight game.

Wichita State has had a revolving door at the five position. Kadeem Coleby (2.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg) is the current starter, and the 6-8 senior has blocked a team-high 45 shots. Chadrack Lufile, a 6-9 senior, is a bit more of an offensive threat (5.9 points, 5.1 rebounds).

Advantage: Kentucky

Power forward

After shooting 30-for-78 in the eight games before the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky freshman star Julius Randle was 7-for-12 against Kansas State and turned in his 21st double-double (19 points, 15 rebounds) of the season.

Wichita State standout Cleanthony Early (16 ppg, 5.9 rpg) had 23 points and seven rebounds in the Shockers' NCAA Tournament victory over Cal Poly. The 6-8 senior has the ability to stretch the floor (62-for-170 three-point shooting) but also leads WSU in turnovers (70).

Advantage: Kentucky

Small forward

James Young shot 3-for-13 in Kentucky's victory over Kansas State. The 6-7 freshman from Rochester Hills, Mich., is 18-for-46 from the field so far in tournament (SEC and NCAA) play.

Tekele Cotton is the third guard in Wichita State's starting lineup. A 6-3 junior from Marietta, Ga., Cotton (10.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 steals) is the MVC Defensive Player of the Year. It will be interesting to see who WSU Coach Gregg Marshall has him guard. Once considered a suspect perimeter shooter, Cotton has developed into a 37.2 percent three-point marksman.

Advantage: Wichita State

Bench

John Calipari played only eight players against Kansas State, and senior guard Jarrod Polson logged only three minutes. Depending on whether Andrew Harrison's elbow bothers him, Polson could see more clock Sunday. Alex Poythress had three points and two rebounds. The 6-8 sophomore had 74 points in seven games in January; he's had 58 points in 14 games since.

Wichita State's Nick Wiggins, a 6-6 senior and the older brother of Kansas freshman star Andrew, averages 5.1 points in 15.2 minutes of playing time. When Wichita goes small, Marshall installs Darius Carter, a 6-7 junior, at center. Carter (8 ppg and 4.6 rpg) had 11 points and 14 rebounds in Wichita State's victory over Tennessee.

Advantage: Wichita State

Intangibles

After a rocky season that began with talk of going 40-0 but instead has seen 10 UK losses, the Cats have a golden opportunity to flip the narrative by spoiling another team's perfect season.

Wichita State (35-0) chafes at being labeled a "mid-major" program, and Marshall acknowledges he uses those who question the Shockers' legitimacy as fuel to get his team to "play angry." Kentucky, with its gold-plated tradition and small army of five-star recruits, is the perfect foil for WSU to show skeptics it is for real.

Advantage: Even

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com. Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/03/22/3154471/mark-story-cats-success-hinges.html#storylink=cpy

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