The Portland Pilots: 10:30 ESPNU

After blowing out East Tennessee State, the Cats will take to the floor in the first of a four game west coast tour when the meet the Pilots of The University of Portland in the Rose Garden. Kentucky came out last Friday night firing on all cylinders showing what the Dribble Drive Motion Offense is supposed to look like. ETSU sat back in a 2-3 zone most of the night allowing plenty of looks from behind the arc and Kentucky took advantage of that shooting 10-17 from downtown in the first half. Shooting the ball was a problem that plagued last years team and one could make the argument that it eventually doomed them in the Elite 8 against West Virginia. That same problem shouldn’t follow this Kentucky team this year with the addition of Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb. I’m not predicting that the Cats will shoot 50% from the 3-point line all season, but I think it will only take a few trips down the floor this season before Kentucky can shoot teams out of a zone defense allowing the Dribble Drive to really get going. It wasn’t a perfect night though as the interior defense continues to look very weak. It will be up Josh Harrellson, Eloy Vargas, as well as Terrence Jones to control the paint as well as the glass on the defensive side of the ball if this team is going to make any noise in March. Luckily we have 115 days till Selection Sunday.

Now on to game 2 and the 3-0 Portland Pilots. The Pilots were picked preseason #2 in the West Coast Conference only behind #12 Gonzaga. Last season the Pilots were 21-11 (10-4) which included a trip to the College Postseason Tournament (Yes, that’s an actual postseason tournament). Portland has also had a little success in the past few seasons upsetting some BCS Conference schools as they knocked off Washington in 2008 and #16 Minnesota as well as Oregon in 2009. This year the Pilots have an average margin of victory at 16 ppg over their 3 opponents which include Milwaukee Wisconsin, UC Davis, and Florida Atlantic. Who to keep an eye on:

#20 Jared Stohl- The 6’1 senior sharpshooter is not only the leading scorer for the Pilots, he is also the most prolific shooter in college basketball. He led the nation in 3-point percentage last season at 48% from behind the arc and is lighting it up at an even higher rate this season pouring it in at 57%. It will be imperative for Kentucky to not let Stohl find a rhythm. I believe they will do this with a combination of defenders probably starting off with DeAndre Liggins.

#43 Luke Sikma- Sikma leads the Pilots in both minutes played as well as rebounds pulling down 13 a game so far this season. The 6’8 senior is also very efficient shooting from the floor dropping it in at 56%. Attacking the rim offensively will be the first option for the Cats and if Sikma can defend the lane effectively without getting into foul trouble he may help Portland stay in this ball game.

This is the final tune-up before the EA Sports Maui Invitational when Kentucky will tip it up in round 1 against Oklahoma. Portland is an experienced team, playing in arguably their biggest game of the season. They have shooters and some effective post players that could cause problems for a young Kentucky team, but UK has the talent and athleticism.

Prediction: Cats by 16


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