UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky basketball opponent: Five things to know about Troy

Troy’s Alex Hicks (30) dunks against Duke's Harry Giles (1) during the first half in a first-round game of the NCAA Tournament in Greenville, S.C., Friday, March 17, 2017. Duke won 87-65.
Troy’s Alex Hicks (30) dunks against Duke's Harry Giles (1) during the first half in a first-round game of the NCAA Tournament in Greenville, S.C., Friday, March 17, 2017. Duke won 87-65. Associated Press

Five things to know about Kentucky’s Monday night opponent, the Troy Trojans:

1. Troy’s head coach is Kentucky native Phil Cunningham

The 51-year-old Paducah native was a long-time assistant under Rick Stansbury at Mississippi State. Cunningham played at Kentucky Wesleyan and later Campbellsville before getting into coaching. He was a grad assistant at Mississippi State in 1991-92 beforee becoming head coach at Sue Bennett from 1992 through 1995.

Cunningham was an assistant at James Madison (1995-97) and Georgia State (1997-2000) before joining Stansbury in Starkville. He was an assistant one season under Ray Harper in 2012-13 before becoming the head coach at Troy.

The Trojans went 11-20, 10-19 and 9-22 his first three seasons before experiencing a turnaround season in 2016-17. Troy went 22-15 overall and 10-8 in tthe Sun Belt Conference. As the No. 6 seed, the Trojans knocked off Texas State 59-53 to win the conference tournament and earn the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2003.

As the No. 15 seed, Troy lost 87-65 to No. 2 seed Duke in a East Regional game played in Greenville, South Carolina.

2. Troy is led by a pair of players with SEC connections

Wesley Person 6-3 senior from Brantley, Alabama who is the son of former Auburn star Wesley Person. Person was the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2014-15 when he averaged 14.2 points per game. Person averaged 16.8 points as a sophomore and 14.8 last season.

Jordon Varnado, a 6-6 junior from Brownsville, Tennessee, is the younger brother of former Mississippi State shot block record-holder Jarvis Varnado, whom Cunningham coached. Jordan Varnado was first-team All-Sun Belt last season as a sophomore when he averaged 16.5 points per game.

2. Troy is 2-2 so far this season

Playing in the Rainbow Classic, the Trojans lost 83-80 to North Dakota in their opener. After an 81-57 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Troy lost at Hawaii 72-67 in overtime. Returning home last Thursday, the Trojans whipped Brewton-Parker 106-71.

Person scored 25 points and Jordan Varnado 24 in the loss to North Dakota, which Troy led 33-30 at the half. Person scored 17 points and added five assists in the win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Trojans shot 50.9 percent in that victory. Varnado scored 25 points and Person 16 in the loss at Hawaii. The team shot just 34.9 percent against the Rainbows.

Alex Hicks, a 6-8 junior, scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the win over Brewton-Parker. Javan Johnson, a 6-7 freshman from Decatur, Alabama, added 18 points as the Trojans shot 50 percent from the floor.

Ken Pomeroy’s numbers rank Troy at No. 160 overall. He has the Trojans at No. 137 in offensive efficiency and No. 182 in defensive efficiency.

4. The Trojans like to shoot three-pointers

Through four games, Cunningham’s team has attempted 111 three-pointers, making 38 for 34.2 percent. Compare that to Kentucky, which has attempted just 53 three-pointers, making 20 for 37.7 percent.

The Trojans made six of 22 threes in the loss to North Dakota. They were 10-of-25 from three against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. They took 34 threes, making 10 in the overtime loss at Hawaii. And they were 12-of-30 from three against Brewton-Parker.

Wesley Person has made 14 of his 33 three-point attempts for 42.4 percent. Kevin Baker, a 6-2 sophomore from St. Louis, has taken the next-most threes. Baker is 5-of-22 for just 22.7 percent.

5. The big story at Troy right now is football

Under former Kentucky Wildcat and offensive coordinator Neal Brown, the Trojans are 8-2 this season, including a 24-21 win at LSU back on Sept. 30.

This follows a 10-3 record in 2016 which ended with a 28-3 win over Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl. Thus Brown is a hot name on the coaching carousel at the moment.

Troy carries a 5-1 Sun Belt record into Friday’s game against Texas State. The Trojans finish the regular season at Arkansas State on Dec. 2.

Right now, Troy, Arkansas State, Georgia State and Appalachian State are all tied atop the Sun Belt standings.

Troy at Kentucky

When: Monday, 8 p.m.

Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington

TV: SEC Network with Tom Hart, Jimmy Dykes and Stormy Buonantony

Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt

UK Radio Network affiliates

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