The CoachCal.com keys to victory: Cleveland State

The Cleveland State Vikings invade Rupp Arena Monday night to take on the Kentucky Wildcats, as the Bill Keightley Classic continues.

Introducing Cleveland State 

The Coach – After head coaching stints at Kent State and Rutgers, Gary Waters is in his seventh season at the helm of CSU basketball. After posting only three winning seasons during the 13 seasons prior to his arrival, Waters has led the Vikings to four 20-win seasons, including 27 victories in 2011, the second most wins in school history. Additionally, the Vikings, a member of the Horizon League, have strung together four postseason appearances in the last five seasons, including the school’s second NCAA Tournament bid in 2009, and back-to-back NIT bids in 2012 and 2013.

The basics

What: No. 4/5 Kentucky (4-1) vs. Cleveland State (3-2)
When: Monday, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Rupp Arena (23,000)
Game notes: UK
Video: Cal’s pre-Cleveland State presser
Video: Hawkins, Johnson discuss defense
Preview: Effort remains focus of Calipari’s displeasure

The Players — An impressive trio of sophomores are CSU’s statistical leaders. The Vikings are led in scoring by 6-foot-3 sharp-shooting sophomore guard Bryn Forbes, who averages 19.6 points per game and has made an outstanding 96.6 percent of his free-throw attempts (28 of 29). Trey Lewis, a 6-2 guard, leads the Vikings in assists with 3.4 dimes per game (and is the team’s No. 3 scorer at 12.6 points per contest). And 6-8 Anton Grady crashes the boards with purpose, as he pulls down 5.8 rebounds per game in only 21.4 minutes per contest.

The Record – CSU enters tonight’s contest with a 3-2 mark on the season, including a 73-69 win over Iona, as well as an 83-73 victory over the Texas-Arlington, a squad Kentucky bested 105-76. Another UK foe, Robert Morris, who lost to the Cats 87-48, also fell to CSU, 87-74. The Viking’s losses have come against San Francisco, 91-82, and Eastern Michigan, 81-69.

Three keys

TV/Radio coverage

TV: Fox Sports Net
Radio: UK IMG
Live stats: Gametracker
Live stream: ESPN3  (subject to blackout)
Live blog: CoachCal.com

1. Guarding the perimeter – In two of UK’s last three contests, the Cats have allowed Michigan State and Texas-Arlington to make a combined 13 of 31 3-point attempts, good for 41.9 percent. CSU is a squad capable of capitalizing on porous perimeter defense, prominently displayed against both Texas-Arlington and Robert Morris, as the Vikings connected on 18 of 41 trey attempts in those contests (43.9 percent). UK’s outside defenders must be mindful of at least three Vikings shooters, all willing and able to bury the 3: The aforementioned Forbes, who has connected on 14-of-30 trey tries on the season (46.7 percent), as well as 5-8 guard Charlie Lee, who is making 42.1 percent from beyond the arc (and is CSU’s second leading scorer at 12.8 points per contest). Finally, 6-6 forward Marlin Mason is efficient from long distance as well, nailing 66.7 percent from range on the season.

2. Continuing to share the basketball – After combining for a mere 32 assists in its first three games (10.7 per game), Kentucky has improved dramatically in the ball sharing department over the last two contests, as the Cats have dished out 38 dimes on 63 made baskets, an outstanding 60.3 assist percentage. For UK to continue to grow as a team, its assist totals must reflect the players’ willingness to share the ball.

Cleveland State

Record: 3-2
Head coach: Gary Waters (139-102 at Cleveland State)
Ranking: N/A
Nickname: Vikings
Player to watch: Bryn Forbes (averaging 19.6 points per game)
Series history: UK leads 1-0
Last meeting: UK won 73-49 on Nov. 24, 2009

3. Free-throw shooting – The Cats are making only 65.1 percent from the stripe on the season, but over the last two games they have connected on 51 of 73 charity tries, good for 69.9 percent. It isn’t an outstanding mark, but it’s closer to where Kentucky needs to be as a team. The importance of UK being competent from the line is underscored by the fact that the Cats have attempted 195 free throws on they year (39.0 per game). And making less than 70 percent of their free throws as a team is equivalent to the Cats taking points off the scoreboard, something this young team can ill afford against elite competition.

Key matchup

Wildcat guards vs. CSU guards – With the 3-point shot being potentially a great equalizer for CSU – something the North Carolina Tar Heels can attest to after Belmont dropped 15 treys on the Heels in an upset win in Chapel Hill –Kentucky’s man-to-man, switching defense must account for the Viking’s sharpshooters with ball denial and closing on the shooter.

Trends

  • After beginning the season making only 14 of 53 from beyond the arc (26.4 percent), UK has connected on 15 of 38 treys over the last two games (39.5 percent)
  • The Cats have 16 steals over the last two contests (8.0 per game) after recording only 12 thefts through their first three games (4.0 per game)
  • Kentucky attempted a season-high 69 shots versus Texas-Arlington last time out
  • Marcus Lee has scored 32 points in 52 minutes of action on the season, which is equivalent to averaging 18.5 points per game in an average of 30 minutes of play per contest
  • James Young has five steals in UK’s last three contests, after having zero thefts in the first two games of the year
  • Aaron Harrison had only one assist in the Cats first two contests, but he has seven dimes in the last three games
  • Andrew Harrison has made 7 of 11 3-point shots on the year (63.6 percent)
  • WillieCauley-Stein is averaging 11.5 rebounds in his last two games after grabbing 24 boards through the first three games (8.0 per game)
  • Alex Poythress pulled down an average of 10.7 rebounds in UK’s first three games, but has snagged only eight boards the last two contests (4.0 per game)
  • Dominique Hawkins played a total of 16 minutes in the first three games (5.3 per game), but has seen 31 minutes of action in the last two games (15.5 per game)
  • Julius Randle, after attempting 42 free throws in the first three games of the season (14.0 per game), has visited the line only 11 times in the last two games (5.5 per game)

Team stats

UK Cleveland State
Scoring offense 89.6 78.8
Scoring defense 64.6 77.6
FG percentage 49.3 42.1
FG percentage defense 36.4 43.3
3-point percentage 31.9 35.2
3-point percentage defense 30.4 32.6
FT percentage 65.1 74.6
Rebound margin +18.6 -3.0
Steals per game 5.6 6.8
Blocks per game 7.2 4.0
Assists per game 14.0 12.0
Turnover margin 0.0 -06.0

Individual leaders

UK Cleveland State
Points per game Julius Randle (20.8) Bryn Forbes (19.6)
Rebounds per game Julius Randle (13.6) Jon Harris (6.4)
Field-goal percentage Marcus Lee (81.3) Sebastian Douglas (51.6)
3-point percentage Andrew Harrison (63.6) Bryn Forbes (46.7)
Free-throw percentage Andrew Harrison (78.6) Bryn Forbes (96.6)
Assists per game Andrew Harrison (3.6) Trey Lewis (3.4)
Blocks per game Willie Cauley-Stein (2.2) Anton Grady (1.6)
Steals per game Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein (1.4) Charlie Lee (2.2)

The wrap-up

Tip-off is at 7 ET in storied Rupp Arena, with television coverage provided by Fox Sports Net. Of course, complete pre-, in-, and postgame coverage of the contest will be provided by CoachCal.com.