Three ways for the Shockers to advance
- Wichita State must play the Wildcats even (or close) on the backboards. Kentucky is huge and generates lots of points through offensive rebounds (It leads the SEC by grabbing 42.2 percent of available offensive rebounds) and by breaking after grabbing rebounds and turnovers. “They’re the biggest team I’ve ever coached against,” an SEC assistant coach said. “That’s a huge key, being able to control your defensive glass. Bad shots are just like live-ball turnovers. They get it and go.” Freshman Julius Randle is Kentucky’s most imposing figure at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds. “He’s an alpha beast,” the assistant coach said. “He’s hard to deal with. You have to make him work so hard that maybe he’s a little worn down at the end.” On Friday, Kentucky grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, but scored only eight points off them against Kansas State. Kentucky out-rebounded Kansas State 40-28.
- Take advantage, or hope to take advantage, of Kentucky’s inconsistency. Are the Wildcats the team that won played well in the SEC Tournament, or the team that lost to South Carolina on March 1? “I saw a more electric and excited team in the SEC Tournament than I did throughout the year,” the assistant coach said. “They’re so young. You never know what you’re going to get. They do, at times, get a little lackadaisical. You can pressure them and force some turnovers.” Center Willie Cauley-Stein is a key figure in Kentucky’s presence. When he plays well, the Wildcats can switch all screens because he is athletic enough to contain point guards. That can disrupt many of the ball screens that Shocker guard Fred VanVleet uses so effectively to create mismatches. “When Cauley-Stein is in and he’s playing well, they’re a lot better defensive team,” the assistant coach said. “The hardest thing to guard is a ball screen. They don’t have to worry about that. Switch it and the ball screen almost become irrelevant.”
- WSU must embrace its Florida-ness. Our helpful assistant compares the Shockers and Gators and believes that game plan can be successful. Florida is 3-0 against Kentucky this season. Can WSU duplicate that success? Both teams are unselfish and careful with the basketball. The assistant coach sees VanVleet as similar to Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin. “They’re really, really good and really, really solid,” the assistant said. “That’s the reason Florida beats Kentucky. That’s exactly how Wichita State plays. Physical. Toughness. They don’t take bad shots.”