Five things you need to know about Kentucky vs Southern Illinois tonight
The much anticipated start of the basketball season ended up being a big pile of doo-doo for Kentucky and their fans, but tonight is a chance to begin to move past that. The Cats face the Salukis of Southern Illinois in Rupp Arena tonight at 7pm on the SEC network. Here are the five things you need to know about tonight’s game.
- Southern Illinois is no cupcake– The Salukis play in the Missouri Valley Conference which has featured many very good NCAA tournament teams over the years, including Loyala-Chicago who went to the Final Four last season. Southern Illinois finished with a 20-13 record over all and went 11-7 in conference play. They return their top 4 scorers and 7 of their top 9. They should challenge Loyola-Chicago for first place in the conference this season and should make the NIT tournament at the very worst.
- The Cats effort should be noticeable from tip-off– After the beatdown that the Cats suffered on Tuesday night, you can be sure that the players are going to be motivated to play better. On top of that Cal had the team diving on the floor doing loose ball drills in practice yesterday. The thing that bothered Cal most about the loss was that Duke appeared to be making all of the hustle plays. He and the coaches have harped on that since and tonight I expect the Cats effort to be extremely high.
- Miracles don’t happen over night– While I expect Kentucky to look much better than they did on Tuesday night, they still have a long way to go. I think they are going to be a very good team that is capable of winning a national championship. But if you are tuning in tonight expecting them to play at that level you will probably be disappointed. You may have heard it a time or twenty that Cal does not have a magic wand, it is just going to take time.
- There will be more focus on getting the ball inside to Reid and PJ– One of the biggest strengths of this team should be the ability to score in the post. Reid Travis and PJ Washington are two of the best post scorers in the country, so it only makes sense to take advantage of that. Establishing them inside will create shooting opportunities for Herro, Quickley, Green and Johnson. Post scoring has to be something that this team can hang it’s hat on and it needs to begin tonight.
- Rebound, rebound, rebound– The other thing that this team should excel at is rebounding the ball. That falls in line with hustle plays but it is one of the most important things for this team. Southern Illinois has some good size for a mid-major but Kentucky needs to dominate the glass and begin to form that as one of their core identities. If I was guessing I would say Kentucky will have a +10 rebounding advantage when all is said and done tonight.
Las Vegas currently has Kentucky as a 17.5 point favorite but I could see the game being closer than that. I think Kentucky will win by double figures but anyone expecting a big blow out could be in for a surprise. Southern Illinois is a very good veteran basketball team, they won’t go down easily. With that said it is possible that the loss lit a fire hot enough under the Cats that they will come out and overwhelm the Salukis. Ultimately what matters is that the Cats get a win under their belts against a good team so they can begin to rebuild their confidence. Tonight gives them the perfect opportunity to do that. Tuesday night felt like the end of the season but tonight will be a reminder that it has only just begun.