UK Men's Basketball

Underdogs lining up

Kentucky hasn't begun a season with three losses since 1926. But more recent history weighs on the minds of UK's upcoming opponents:

Virginia Military Institute's victory over UK last week.

If VMI beat Kentucky, couldn't Delaware State on Saturday and/or Longwood on Monday do the same?

Of VMI's victory, Delaware State associate coach Keith Walker said, "That says, 'Well, hey, maybe we have a chance."

Then, Walker added, "But you know those All-American guys are going to get tuned up. You have to catch them early and off-guard."

VMI's victory caught the attention of Longwood Coach Mike Gillian. He likened it to Gardner-Webb beating the Cats this time last season.

"It doesn't hurt having the Gardner-Webbs and VMIs of the world coming to Kentucky and winning," he said. "There are parallels that can be drawn."

But Gillian won't be incorporating VMI's victory into any pep talk. He doesn't want his players thinking about any other UK opponent.

"I want it to be about us and what we're going to do," said Gillian, who also mentioned another logical reason for not talking about VMI. His players already know about that game.

Delaware State and Longwood have other concerns.

First and foremost for Delaware State, it has a brutal schedule that began with the Hornets' 70-42 loss at Ohio State Thursday night as part of eight straight road games (in a stretch that included 12 of 13 away from home).

"The exact amount of games, I don't know," Walker said of the packing and unpacking. "I know it's 15 days. My wife told me."

Delaware State, 1-4 after losing to Ohio State, does not play VMI's frenetic full-court pressing, quick-draw shooting style. Nor do the Hornets possess the athleticism and talent of North Carolina.

Walker described Delaware State's style as "deliberate," as suggested by a 62-42 loss at Dayton on Wednesday.

Coach Greg Jackson has brought stability (the Hornets had seven coaches in an eight-year span in the 1990s) and success. He needs four victories to reach 300 for his career.

Of playing Ohio State and Kentucky, Walker said, "We tell our players we're coming to win games. We're not coming to participate."

That said, the associate coach added, "We want to see progress in the players executing our system."

Sophomore Trevor Welcher, who led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in assist-turnover ratio last season, gives Delaware State what Walker called a "controlled point guard."

Longwood, 2-2 after losing 86-54 at West Virginia Thursday night, is in its second season as a full-fledged member of NCAA Division I basketball.

The school shares more with VMI than the home state of Virginia. The Lancers aspire to join VMI in the Big South Conference.

To bolster its case, Longwood can cite an 85-84 victory over Big South member Gardner-Webb this season, plus three straight home victories over Liberty. The Lancers have also beaten High Point and Charleston Southern.

Of Gardner-Webb's victory at Kentucky, Gillian said, "At some point in time, we're going to get one of those, and I think we're getting closer."

Such a victory would punctuate a five-year building effort that included refurbishing a home court. "There are high school gyms in Kentucky that look nicer," Gillian said of the before-picture of Longwood's arena.

Home had to look great for a Longwood program that has won only four of its most recent 61 games on an opponent's court after West Virginia.

Longwood's style bore a resemblance to VMI. To compensate for a lack of size, the Lancers try to create mismatches by trying to make the opponents' big men defend away from the basket. And UK's 53 turnovers in two games fits with Longwood's style of pressuring the opponents' point guard. Gillian noted how Longwood can rotate three defenders on the opponent's point guard.

"They'll be fresh guys guarding the ball," he said. "We're not standing at the three-point line, saying, 'C'mon, we'll all play from the three-point line in.' That guy will be guarded 90 feet from the hoop."