KENTUCKY WILDCATS vs. MARYLAND TERRAPINS
Friday, November 09, 2012, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
8:30PM Tipoff, ESPN
This is it, folks. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for since the final buzzer of the Kentucky/Kansas National Championship game. Tonight is the night a new generation of Wildcats takes the floor to defend their championship. And what an early test it will be, as the Cats take on the Terrapins of Maryland in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic in the brand new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
While the Terrapins (17-15 in 2011-12, 6-10 in ACC play) may be unranked and in a rebuilding stage under second year head coach Mark Turgeon, they pose a more formidable threat than your typical season opener.
Much like Kentucky, Maryland is a very young team, with eleven underclassmen, including five freshmen. Senior James Padgett will be called upon to lead the team as its top returning rebounder and second returning scorer. Last season he contributed 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest, and will be looked toward again to be a presence on the glass. Maryland received a bit of good news recently when it was announced that recent Xavier transfer Dez Wells would be cleared to play against UK. Wells will most likely start at small forward for the Terrapins.
Turgeon adds to his reputation as a tremendous recruiter, boasting the 15th best recruiting class for the 2012-13 season, with highly touted freshmen Shaquille Cleare (53rd on Rivals.com), Jake Layman (70th) and Charles Mitchell (92nd) joining fellow newcomers Seth Allen and Conner Lipinski. It seems that Turgeon has brought in the right mix of players to rebuild Maryland to its former glory.
Kentucky fans will be anxious to see how John Calipari’s youngest team to date will handle a more formidable foe. There is also some concern over the guard situation too, with point guard Ryan Harrow missing practice time with flu-like symptoms and a leg injury to reserve guard and lone senior Julius Mays. Coach Cal noted in his press conference that if the situation arose, little-used guard Jarrod Polson would be ready to contribute minutes.
“We’re all comfortable … if he has to come in and play minutes, play significant minutes,” Calipari said of Polson, continuing, “He’s not going to be a guy trying to get 30 points. But he’s got some size and he’s got some toughness. He can make the open shot. I think he’s dying for the opportunity.”
Another story coming into the game has been the struggles of sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, who was counted on coming into the season to be a starter and team leader, but has struggled in the first two exhibition games both offensively and defensively. There have already been calls to go to a “Twin Tower” style of play, bringing in freshman Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein to play at the same time, a tactic oft used by Joe B. Hall in the early 80’s with UK legends Sam Bowie and Mel Turpin. It’s doubtful that Cal will bench WIltjer even before the season opener, but if he struggles again against Maryland, he could be riding the pine by the end of the night.
These are two freshman-oriented teams, and the play will likely be sloppy at times. Regardless, playing against decent competition will be a true test of these young Cats’ mettle. It’s also interesting to hear the buzz around Cal’s faith in Polson, who fans seem to like but hasn’t gotten past the “human cigar” mantle. He looked fairly competent so far this season, but can he be counted on to be a a dependable backup to Harrow and Archie Goodwin?
The Cats are favored by 16 1/2 points tonight. While I don’t disagree with that assessment, I think this will be a closer game than it seems. These guys, however good they may be, are playing legitimate competition for the first time, on national television to boot. Mistakes will be made, count on it. But in the end, talent will overcome inexperience as the Cats get Win #1 on the season.
Kentucky 74, Maryland 60