How No. 6 Kentucky and No. 10 Louisville match up — with a game prediction:
▪ Part of Kentucky’s three-guard attack, Malik Monk (21.9 ppg, 50.3 percent FGs, 42.4 percent three-pointers) has been the most talked-about player in men’s college basketball since dropping 47 points on North Carolina in UK’s 103-100 victory Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound product of Lepanto, Ark., made 18 of 28 shots and eight of 12 three-pointers, including the one that put UK ahead for good. Monk figures to be the focal point of Rick Pitino’s defensive plan — and the U of L coach has long excelled at being able to “take away” an opposing team’s principal scorer.
▪ There was talk that Louisville’s Deng Adel could be an NBA Draft early entrant after this season, but so far the 6-7, 200-pound sophomore has not played to that level. The Melbourne, Australia, product is averaging 9.7 ppg and 4.6 rpg but is shooting only 35.5 percent from the field, 28.9 percent from three-point range. In Louisville’s 75-73 loss to Kentucky in Rupp Arena last season Adel played two minutes and hit his only shot. Playing three guards, Kentucky can be vulnerable to a true small forward — North Carolina’s Justin Jackson hung 34 points on UK — but can Adel shoot accurately enough to burn the Cats?
▪ Kentucky’s Wenyen Gabriel (four points, six rebounds in 21 minutes) and Derek Willis (three points, one rebound in 19 minutes) split the minutes vs. North Carolina without either being especially productive. A 6-9, 213-pound freshman from Manchester, N.H., Gabriel (6.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) has scored 11 points combined in UK’s past four games. A 6-9, 228-pound senior from Bullitt East, Willis (6.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg), is struggling defensively, and that appears to be affecting his offense. Last year, Willis had three points and two rebounds vs. U of L.
▪ After a summer in which Jaylen Johnson hit the weights and switched to a more healthy diet, the 6-9, 230-pound junior from Ypsilanti, Mich., has seen his production (9.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 62.3 FG percentage) elevate substantially. Between Johnson and ex-Trinity standout Ray Spalding (7.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 65.4 FG percentage), U of L is getting 16.8 ppg and 12.9 rpg from the four position. Johnson had six points, three rebounds vs. UK last season, and Spalding three points, five rebounds.
▪ Before fouling out in 19 minutes, UK’s Bam Adebayo (12.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg) had 13 points and seven rebounds in the win over North Carolina. The 6-10, 260-pound freshman from Little Washington, N.C., has had at least seven boards in nine of UK’s 11 games. Against a Louisville front line deep with big men, Adebayo staying on the court is vital for Kentucky.
▪ It only seems as if Mangok Mathiang has been playing for Louisville since Wes Unseld’s days. The 6-10, 230-pound redshirt senior (6.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Kentucky guard Dominique Hawkins are the only players who played in UK’s 2014 NCAA Tournament win over U of L who are still on their teams. In U of L’s blowout of Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, Mathiang had a crazy stat line: No points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. The Melbourne, Australia, product was injured and missed last year’s UK-U of L game.
▪ Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe missed last year’s Kentucky-Louisville game after suffering an ankle injury in pregame warm-ups. In the North Carolina shootout, Briscoe was quietly solid — 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists in 38 minutes. A 6-3, 210-pound product of Newark, N.J., Briscoe is having a quality sophomore season (15.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.6 assists) but is doing most of his scoring off the drive (27.8 percent three-point shooter). Expect Louisville to try to force him to shoot jumpers.
▪ Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell (11.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is a freakish athlete and one of the most explosive dunkers in college basketball. In spite of an offseason spent working on his jumper, the 6-3, 200-pound sophomore from Greenwich, Conn., has struggled with his outside shot (37.5 FG percentage, 29.0 on three-pointers). Mitchell played well against UK in Rupp last season, going for eight points, five rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes.
▪ UK’s De’Aaron Fox continued a dazzling start to his freshman season against North Carolina, putting up 24 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and only two turnovers. For the season, the sleek 6-3, 187-pound Houston native is averaging 15.9 ppg, 7.2 assists and 5.3 rpg. Where Fox has struggled is outside shooting (3 of 23 three-pointers), so expect Louisville to try to make him a jump shooter, too.
▪ Louisville’s Quentin Snider is long on substance, short on flash. Kentucky’s 2014 Mr. Basketball at Ballard, the 6-2, 175-pound junior is averaging 11 ppg and has 42 assists vs. only 13 turnovers. Snider, however, is another key Louisville player struggling with his shot (32.2 percent). In last season’s game vs. UK, Snider missed all five of his shots and had one assist in 28 minutes.
▪ Kentucky’s Dominique Hawkins (3.4 ppg, 31 assists vs. three turnovers) was a hero of last season’s two-point Cats victory over U of L. The ex-Madison Central star hit three three-pointers and scored 13 points — including UK’s final five of the game. Kentucky 7-foot sophomore Isaac Humphries (3.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and 6-10 freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones (3.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg) could both be needed to contribute productive minutes against Louisville’s deep corps of big men. Senior guard Mychal Mulder (7.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg) did not play in either of UK’s marquee games vs. UCLA and UNC.
▪ Louisville fans have been calling for more clock for freshman swingman V.J. King (7.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg) because the 6-6, 190-pound Cleveland product has been making jump shots (8 of 15 on three-pointers). Anas Mahmoud (5.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, team-high 20 blocks) missed three games with a concussion but returned to play well vs. EKU (six points, five blocks, four rebounds in 16 minutes). After some early-season struggles adapting to Louisville’s system, Tony Hicks (3.9 ppg) seems to be finding his niche. A graduate transfer from Pennsylvania, Hicks had 10 points — albeit with four turnovers — in 17 minutes vs. EKU. His quickness could be especially important for U of L defensively against UK.
Kentucky can draw comfort from the fact it has beaten Louisville eight times in nine games since John Calipari became the UK head coach. Rick Pitino and Louisville can draw motivation from those same numbers. After going 6-2 against Louisville as Kentucky head coach (1989-97), Pitino is 5-12 vs. Kentucky as Louisville head man (2001-present). Calipari now has the upper hand on Pitino overall in their college rivalry, 13-9. This figures to be a heated Louisville crowd for UK’s first true road game of the season. Under Calipari, Kentucky is 2-5 in its first visit to an opponent’s arena each season.
Kentucky 72, Louisville 67