It's also not true.
The Colonels come strolling into Rupp Arena packing a 7-2 record and a talented roster especially for a mid-major. Sometimes you just watch a team and it's easy to see how the pieces fit. The San Antonio Spurs are like that most years, Golden State is like that this year, and the Bulls are the polar opposite. The Colonels are like that and while they may be considered "less talented" than the mighty Wildcats, they play with a continuity and chemistry that most teams would love to have. They're also experienced with four seniors and 3 juniors that play regular minutes.
The Colonels are well coached with first year coach Dan McHale, who is a disciple of Rick Pitino having served under Pitino at the University of Kentucky as a student manager in the late 90s, at the University of Louisville as an assistant coach and also as an assistant to his son Richard at the University of Minnesota. The Colonels' style of play reminds me of a traditional Rick Pitino team: Hard-nosed, deep, long-range shooting, and feisty on the defensive end. Coach McHale also has two former NBA players and college standouts on his bench: Associate Head Coach Michael Bradley and Assistant Coach Reece Gaines. These Colonels are an exciting team to watch.
That may sound like an idle threat, but consider these few things:
Three-point shooting: The Colonels are an excellent three-point shooting team, ranking fifth in the entire country in three-point percentage (44.3% on 22 attempts per game). They have six guys on their team that have taken 20 or more three-pointers this season and four of them are shooting 50% or better.
They also have K.J Bluford, the senior guard who Coach Dan McHale said was "the best pure shooter in the country" at EKU's Maroon/White Scrimmage. He can get hot in a hurry. I was at a game against Southern Utah, where they clearly didn't know their personnel, and didn't close out on him on the wing. He was looking to pass, but was so open he just drained a three. Four three-pointers later, Southern Utah realized their mistake, but by then it was too late. EKU had taken control of the game and Bluford was in the zone. It happened the next game against Western Kentucky University. He can get hot in a hurry. The Wildcats would be wise to keep an eye on #24.
Depth: Most mid-majors are five players deep and this really hurts them late in games as guys get tired or in foul trouble and then just fizzle out. Not EKU. EKU has a legitimate twelve man roster. It's really amazing to watch. Their second five is as good as their first five and this helps Coach McHale's style: Threes and D. It allows the Colonels to press and to hustle for 40 minutes.
Talent: The Colonels are very talented. The Colonels have two guys averaging 18+ points per game - Jarelle Reischel and JaVontae Hawkins. Reischel is leading the team with 19.7 points per game and does everything on the court averaging 8.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2 steals as well. Reischel is a transfer from Rhode Island and has the size and speed to matchup with Kentucky's talented wing players. He stands 6'7 and is very athletic. He will be a problem for the Wildcats. Hawkins is not the athlete that Reischel is, but he's probably the best pure scorer the Colonels have. He can carry the offense for stretches and can give his teammates better looks for the attention he draws. This helps shooters like Isaac McGlone, K.J. Bluford, and Jaylen Babb-Harrison.
The Colonels also have 6'9 freshmen forward/center Nick Mayo prowling the paint. Mayo has an impressive post game and will be a problem for the Ohio Valley Conference. I'm not sure how he'll hold up against the athletic big men that Kentucky will throw at him, but he may present some very real matchup problems for the Wildcats and could coax some of their big men into foul trouble.
Then there's Paul Jackson. Paul Jackson is the starting point guard for the Colonels and a tenacious on-ball defender. He's feisty, he will take charges, and he can hound you full court. He may not stop Tyler Ulis, but he's definitely going to make him work for it. It will be fun to watch Jackson lock horns with one of the best point guards in the nation.
Because of these three things, I feel like the Colonels have a 'puncher's chance' against the Wildcats. Will they beat them? Not likely, but I could see this being a tougher than expected game for the Wildcats. One thing that may be on the Colonels side is the proximity to Lexington, KY: EKU is only 25-30 minutes away from Lexington in nearby Richmond, KY. They're seen as the "little brother" to UK and as such, fans have some sympathy for them. There might even be a larger than expected EKU contingent inside Rupp Arena. If that crowd doesn't get crazy, that may favor the Colonels. Here are my keys for the Colonels if they expect to even have a prayer against the Wildcats:
- Get off to a good start: There have been a few games this year that the Colonels have gotten off to a slow start, most recently to Western Kentucky where they fell behind 21-2 in the first 4 or 5 minutes of the game. If that happens on Wednesday night, the Colonels are done. They need to come out ready and focused to play.
- Hound them for 94 feet: Wear the Wildcats down. Force turnovers. Make them sweat. Get the ball out of Tyler Ulis' hands. I think these are things that EKU can and will do. Kentucky does a good job of taking care of the ball, but I think EKU can force some turnovers and convert on those turnovers.
- Play your game: EKU cannot be sucked into playing UK's style. They have to play with the pace and the poise that makes them so successful. Hound them on defense, take (and make) tons of threes, and play with confidence.
Like I said, I don't expect an EKU victory, but I think they're going to put on a good show on ESPN2.
Brandon Pence is the founder and former editor of the Chicago Bulls blog "The Bulls Charge." He currently contributes to ChiBullsZone.com and writes independently. You can follow him on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook
John 1:14 (AMP)