How No. 8 Kentucky (8-1) and Virginia Tech (9-1) match up at each position — with a game prediction:
▪ Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox did not have an enjoyable visit to New York City last weekend. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound product of Tampa missed eight of his nine shots in UK’s 93-76 win over Monmouth in Madison Square Garden on Saturday and had fewer points (four) than turnovers (seven). Knox remains Kentucky’s leading scorer (15.2 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (5.8).
▪ Virginia Tech’s Justin Bibbs leads the Hokies in scoring (17.5 ppg) and has been scalding hot from three-point range, having gone 20-for-42 this season. If the game is close, the 6-5, 220-pound senior from Dayton, Ohio, is not a guy Kentucky wants to put on the foul line. Bibbs has missed only one foul shot (18-for-19) this season.
▪ UK freshman PJ Washington is coming off the best game of his brief UK career, scoring 20 points (5-for-8 field goals, 1-for-2 three-pointers, 9-for-9 free throws), grabbing six rebounds and blocking four shots against Monmouth. John Calipari credited the strong showing by the 6-7 Washington to the player having lost 15 pounds in 17 days. Washington said he lost the weight through an extensive running program.
▪ Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill, a 6-5, 205-pound redshirt junior, is more a swing man than a traditional power forward but is part of Hokies Coach Buzz Williams’ four-guard attack. A product of Augusta, Ga., Hill (16.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg) is a three-point bomber — he’s made exactly half of the 60 treys he’s attempted this season.
Advantage: Virginia Tech
▪ Kentucky’s Nick Richards turned in a highly efficient effort in UK’s win over Monmouth. The 6-11, 240-pound product of Kingston, Jamaica, had 10 points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes of playing time. On the season, Richards (8.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is shooting 66 percent from the field and 77.3 percent from the foul line.
▪ Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear is back this year after leg injuries forced him to redshirt in 2016-17. A 6-10, 260-pound native of Orlando, Fla., Blackshear is off to a strong start, averaging 13 ppg and 7.1 rpg. On the three-point mad Hokies, even the center can make a trey: Blackshear is 3-for-5 on the season.
▪ Kentucky redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo, a Queens, N.Y., product, had a great homecoming in the Big Apple last weekend. In the victory over Monmouth, Diallo made eight of 13 shots and scored 23 points. The 6-5, 198-pound Diallo has the potential to be a major stat stuffer — he’s averaging 14.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals.
▪ Virginia Tech freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker is the first cousin of Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Like his UK cuz, Alexander-Walker is off to a strong start to his college career, averaging 14.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 2.2 assists. He, too, can bust the trey (21-for-44 for 47.7 percent).
▪ Kentucky’s Quade Green had nine points (4-for-6 field goals), five assists and three rebounds in only 16 minutes against Monmouth before suffering an eye injury. John Calipari said Friday he believes Green will play against Tech. The 6-foot, 180-pound freshman from Philadelphia (10.3 ppg, 3.6 assists) is UK’s best three-point shooter at 45 percent (9-for-20).
▪ Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson is averaging 9.9 points and has 58 assists (5.8 a game) vs. only 23 turnovers. The 6-1, 185-pound junior from Manassas, Va., had a double-double (13 points, 11 assists) last year against Boston College. Robinson can also — wait for it — shoot the three (11-for-24).
Advantage: Virginia Tech
▪ Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been UK’s most pleasant surprise so far. The 6-6, 180-pound product of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, is averaging 10.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg and a team-best 4.4 assists. He could stand to cut back on the turnovers (team-high 26). Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel has been active, averaging 6.0 ppg and 5.2 rpg in 21.4 minutes a game. Sacha Killeya-Jones (4.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) missed the Monmouth game with a sprained ankle. The 6-10 sophomore is expected back this week. With Jones out, Tai Wynyard got extended playing time last week and the 6-10, 250-pound redshirt sophomore had four points and six rebounds in 12 minutes.
▪ Virginia Tech has 10 players averaging in excess of 10 minutes a game. Chris Clarke (9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is essentially a sixth starter for the Hokies. In Tech’s 83-80 overtime win at Mississippi, the 6-6, 210-pound junior had a double-double (16 points, 12 boards). Clarke has made six of 12 three-point shots this season. Senior guard Devin Wilson (3.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.4 apg) sat out last season in basketball after playing wide receiver on the Virginia Tech football team. Freshman forward P.J. Horne, 6-5, 215 pounds, is averaging 6.5 points in 12.6 minutes a game.
Virginia Tech is the first power-five conference foe to visit Rupp Arena this season, so the atmosphere should be juiced. An NCAA Tournament team a season ago, the Hokies have victories this season over major conference foes Washington, Iowa and Ole Miss. Tech head man Buzz Williams should have good memories of Rupp Arena. When he was head man at Marquette, Williams and the Golden Eagles escaped Davidson by one point and Butler by two — in what turned out to be Brad Stevens’ final game as Bulldogs head coach — in the 2013 NCAA Tournament in Rupp to advance to the round of 16.
Kentucky 84, Virginia Tech 81