What UVA Basketball fans would have needed to know about Kentucky

uva basketball national champs

Photo by Chris Graham.

Virginia, your reigning, defending, undisputed champs, would be on its way to New York City this week, in a perfect world.

Headed back to the Garden – Madison Square Garden.

The last Sweet Sixteen in MSG didn’t work out so well, back in 2014, which is when we began to develop our healthy hatred for Michigan State.

The 2015 trip to the Garden worked out a bit better, with the ‘Hoos beating down West Virginia in a December game.

Playing through our 2020 NCAA Tournament bracket, Virginia, the six seed in the East, would be meeting up with the two seed in the East, Kentucky, in a loaded Sweet Sixteen that would have top seed Dayton meeting fourth-seeded Duke in the other game.

No doubt, we’d go on first, even being the defending champs, and honestly, it wouldn’t bother me at all that this would be the case.

I mean, seriously, Dayton-Duke?

I’d have a hard time dragging myself back to the media room to write up the UVA gamer and have to miss any of that one.

Alas.

Getting to know: Kentucky

The Wildcats (25-6, 15-3 SEC) won nine of their last 10, so we’d be seeing two of the hottest teams (UVA won 11 of its last 12) meeting up in the semi-main event.

This group is loaded in the backcourt – with 6’3” guards Immanuel Quickley (16.1 ppg, 41.7% FG, 42.8% 3FG), Tyrese Maxey (14.0 ppg, 42.7% FG, 29.2% 3FG) and point guard Ashton Hagans (11.5 ppg, 6.4 assists/g, 40.4% FG, 25.8% 3FG).

Nick Richards (14.0 ppg, 7.8 rebounds/g, 64.2% FG) is a big (6’11”), physical presence in the paint, alongside 6’10” E.J. Montgomery (6.1 ppg, 5.4 rebounds/g, 51.8% FG).

It would have been interesting to have seen what would have happened with Hagans, who missed UK’s last regular-season game to deal with what coach John Calipari termed a “personal issue.”

In his absence, 6’7” freshman Keion Brooks (4.5 ppg, 15.1 minutes/g) got the start and scored 10 points in 27 minutes in the 71-70 win at Florida.

Calipari had limited his rotation down the stretch to an eight-man group that also included 6’6” freshman (and former UVA target) Johnny Juzang (2.9 ppg, 12.3 minutes/g) and 6’9” senior Nate Sestina (5.8 ppg, 3.8 rebs/g, 46.3% FG, 40.7% 3FG).

How Virginia would have matched up

Kihei Clark (10.8 ppg, 5.9 assists/g, 4.2 rebs/g, 37.5% 3FG) would have been a good matchup for Hagans.

Clark seems to be more effective ball-hawking bigger point guards, able to get up under them more, to take advantage of his quickness and lateral mobility.

Kentucky’s traditional lineup with two bigs means Tony Bennett doesn’t have to adjust his preferred lineup with 6’9” senior Mamadi Diakite (13.7 ppg, 6.8 rebs/g, 47.8% FG, 36.4% 3FG) and 7’1” junior Jay Huff (8.5 ppg, 6.2 rebounds/g, 57.1% FG, 35.8% 3FG) providing offense and protecting the hell out of the rim.

Story by Chris Graham

         
 

UVA Basketball Fans!

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25. The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe, and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018 through to the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.

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Feedback from buyers: “Got the Book in the Mail Saturday, and could not put it down! Great read and great photography as well! Love all of the books I’ve received, but hands down, this is my favorite!” – Russell

Buy here.


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