The Kentucky Wildcats reward for a season of more ups that downs in the SEC was a No. 2 seed when the brackets were announced on Selection Sunday last weekend. Their first opponent in the tournament is No. 15 seed Abilene Christian University who won their own way into the bracket by winning the Southland Conference Tournament as the No. 2 seed.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Weather the early storm
First round games for high seeds are always a little scary for the first 10 or 15 minutes. The opposition has nothing to lose in these contests. That is how results like UMBC beating Virginia as a 16 seed over a 1 seed happen.
Kentucky needs to understand that ACU will throw everything at the Wildcats in the early going here. This is a program that is making its first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, having only transitioned into eligibility to make the field at all last year.
The ACU Wildcats have actually been a low end, losing program for most of their existence. This is a small, closely knit campus and the players are going to feed off of that energy in the early going. Kentucky must play hard early and not let the Texan team sneak out into an early lead which will allow their confidence to grow.
Work the ball inside
This game features a size mismatch that is distinctly in the advantage of Kentucky.
ACU is not a big team and their tallest starter stands at 6-foot-7. They did have an inside presence for most of the season, but that disappeared when center Jalone Friday was kicked off of the team in February. Friday was a big player not just because of his size but also because he led the Wildcats in scoring for most of the season.
With Friday (and starting guard B.J. Maxwell) off of the team, it is amazing in many ways that ACU was able to regroup and win the Southland Tournament. That size loss though will be felt in a big way here as P.J. Washington and Reid Travis should have everything their own way in the paint.
If Kentucky plays even an average game down low then they will have way too much scoring threat inside for ACU to handle.
Shut down the three ball
The easiest way for a first round upset to happen is for a mid-major squad to get hot from there point range.
It is a story that we have witness over and over since the three-point line was introduced and Kentucky had better be ready for ACU to bomb from deep on Thursday. The Wildcats from Texas shoot 38.6-percent of their three balls on the year and they have four key players that have shot over 40-percent from downtown individually this season. That is a recipe to cause Kentucky problems and every player on the court defensively must be switched on and not leave open shooters available to keep this game close.