Any thoughts that this Kentucky team might not be amped up and ready to play in the NIT were put to rest with last Monday’s 70-60 victory over the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. Patrick Patterson simply proved to be too much for the undersized Rebels and despite their late run the Cats played their best overall game in quite a while.
They held UNLV to 38-percent shooting and dished out an impressive 20 assists. It was obvious that the Kentucky players fed off of the energy of the Memorial Coliseum crowd.
Now the focus turns to Round Two of the NIT and the MVC Regular Season Co-Champion, Creighton Blue Jays. The Blue Jays won an impressive 27 games this season and were 14-4 in conference play.
They are in the NIT, and not the NCAA, because they fell to a red hot Illinois State in the semifinals of their conference tournament. ISU made 13-of-19 three point attempts in the upset.
The Blue Jays are extremely deep and will throw as many as 11 guys at their opponent. In their first round win over Bowling Green they had eight guys who played over 15 minutes. They have a productive inside-outside game, but are particularly dangerous from beyond the arc.
They have five guys who have made more than 29 three-pointers on the season and three of those guys are shooting over 40-percent from deep. As a team the Blue Jays have connected on 268 threes this season and are shooting 38-percent.
Comparatively Kentucky has connected on 191 threes and 111 of those have come from Jodie Meeks.
With so many shooters on the wing it makes it very difficult for defenders to help on penetration and to double down low.
Senior Booker Woodfox (6’1”, guard) is the Blue Jays’ leading scorer and their deadliest threat from deep. He is averaging 15.7 points-per-game and has scored in double figures in all but five games this season.
In their 69-58 win at St. Joseph’s, he was the lone Blue Jay in double figures with 29 points and he finished 7-of-9 from deep.
He is not a threat to take defenders off the dribble and doesn’t really do much other than score but when he gets open looks, he knocks shots down. He has connected on 88 three-pointers this season and is shooting 48-percent from beyond the arc. 53-percent of his field goal attempts have come from deep. He is also shooting 87-percent from the line.
Creighton’s second leading scorer is sophomore P’Allen Stinnett (6’3”, guard). While nowhere near as efficient from deep as Woodfox, he is not hesitant to launch it from beyond the arc.
Stinnett is only shooting 31-percent from three-point range but has still unloaded on 131 attempts. He is also more of a threat off of the dribble and has the ability to create for teammates. In their first round win over Bowling Green, he led all scorers with 18 points and also dished out a team-high six assists.
Kentucky defenders must also be aware of sophomores Casey Harriman (6’5”, forward) and Kaleb Korver (6’5”, guard) and not allow open looks. The sole reason that Harriman and Korver see minutes is to give them multiple threats from deep.
Of their combined 190 field goal attempts on the season, 156 of them are from beyond the arc. They have connected on 43-percent of their three-point attempts.
Inside the Blue Jays are led by sophomore Kenny Lawson Jr. (6’9”, center). Lawson is averaging 8.4 points-per-game and is their second leading rebounder with 4.8 a game. He is shooting 53-percent from the floor and is a threat on the defensive end as well with nearly two blocks a game.
Although junior Justin Carter is only 6’4”, he plays a lot bigger than that and provides Creighton with some much needed help underneath. He is their leading rebounder with 5.2 per game and finds ways to get balls off of the glass.
Senior Josh Dotzler sets up the Creighton offense and although he is not much of a threat to score, he provides a veteran presence on the floor and gets all of his teammates involved. He leads the Blue Jays in assists with 3.4 per-game.
When Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie was asked to compare Creighton to a team that they had played earlier this season, he struggled to name anyone. He did however have this to say.
“They make a lot and they shoot a lot (three-pointers), but they (also) do a lot off of the dribble and in the post-up area.
"They are a good defensive team, they press well, they guard well, they shoot free throws well, they don’t turn the ball over much, and they get about eight steals per game. It is a sound team, and they aren’t playing five or six guys, they play a lot of people.”
Under Dana Altman, the Blue Jays are well-coached and are simply a fundamentally sound ballclub. They rely on the three a lot but when it isn’t falling they can find other ways to score. They are extremely balanced, as they play well on both ends of the court.
A win for Kentucky at the Qwest Center will be a definite accomplishment, in a season where they have struggled to receive many accolades outside of the individual performances of Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks.
It would also move the ‘Cats one win away from a trip to Madison Square Gardens and the N.I.T. semifinals.