By LARRY VAUGHT
Looking for a few reasons to be optimistic about Kentucky’s matchup with Kansas State Thursday night in Atlanta.
Well, here’s a few that pop out to me.
1. Kentucky is on its best roll of the season. The Cats have won five straight games and nine of the last 10. Kentucky has already got a pair of NCAA Tournament wins over Davidson and Buffalo and the Cats simply are peaking at the right time — something coach John Calipari has a knack for doing.
2. No player is playing better in the NCAA Tournament than Kentucky freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s probably turned himself into a one-and-done player just like Eric Bledsoe did in 2010 when no one thought that would happen when the season started.
Kevin Knox had been the team’s best all-around player most of the season and is still playing well. I think Knox and Gilgeous-Alexander will be the two best players on the court Thursday night.
Kansas State might have more seniority than UK’s freshman laden-team, but after 36 games I just don’t think that matters that much. It’s not like Kansas State has a team rich in NCAA experience.
3. Kentucky will have the biggest front line that Kansas State has faced this year and could get a boost with the return of Jarred Vanderbilt, who has missed the last five games. Sacha Killeya-Jones has become a dependable inside player the last five games to help offset the disappearance of Nick Richards.
Kansas State probably will get 6-10 Dean Wade back Thursday night, but he’s been out the last three games with a foot injury. Makol Mawien has played well on defense for K-State in the NCAA but he has a propensity for getting into foul trouble against bigger, stronger forwards like UK’s P.J. Washington.
And don’t forget UK averages 39 rebounds per game.
4. Kentucky is not seen as a great offensive team, but it is shooting 47.3 percent overall and 35.7 percent from 3-point range despite having its 30-year streak of making a 3-pointer in every game end against Davidson. Kentucky has also shown lately in can grind out scores in a slow pace or outrun a team like Buffalo.
Kansas State held Creighton to 59 points and then Maryland-Baltimore County got just 43. But UK has scored 80 or more points in six of its last 10 games.
5. This will be a home game for Kentucky. Phillips Arena will be full of BBN fans. That does not guarantee a win but K-State has not been great on the road and this could be the most raucous atmosphere it has seen all year.
Projected score: Kentucky 69, Kansas State 62.