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The CoachCal.com keys to victory: Eastern Michigan

The Kentucky Wildcats take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles in the final game of the Keightley Classic.

Introducing Eastern Michigan

The basics

What: No. 3/4 Kentucky (5-1) vs. Eastern Michigan (5-1)
When: Tuesday, 4 p.m. ET
Where: Rupp Arena (23,000)
Game notes: UK 
Preview: UK shows ‘will to win’ just in time for tougher schedule
Video: Cal’s post-Cleveland State presser

The Coach – After a highly successful high school coaching career in Michigan, a two-year assisting coaching stint at Kent State and seven years assisting the legendary Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, Rob Murphy was hired to lead the Eastern Michigan Eagles in April of 2011. In Murphy’s first season at the Mid-American Conference school (2011-12), the Eagles won their first-ever West Division championship.

The Players – The Eagles are led in scoring by 6-foot-7 junior forward Karrington Ward at 18.2 points per game. Although long, Ward’s abilities stretch beyond the paint, as he has connected on 8 of 15 3-point shots on the season (53.3 percent). Redshirt freshman Raven Lee, a 6-3 guard, drops in 18.0 points per contest on the strength of 58.8 percent long-range shooting (10 of 17). The Eagles have great balance when rebounding the basketball, and are led by Ward, who snags 6.2 boards per game. Mike Talley, a 6-0 junior guard who transferred to EMU from Duquesne, is the Eagles leading assist man with 4.2 dimes per contest. Finally, 7-0 senior Da’Shonte Riley, a Syracuse transfer, is averaging 5.2 blocks per game in only 22.6 minutes of action per contest.

TV/Radio coverage

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

The Record – The Eagles are flying high in the early season, having posted a perfect 5-0 mark, with three of their victories coming against common UK opponents in the Keightley Classic. First, EMU dispatched Robert Morris, 69-64, followed by an impressive 81-69 win over a very dangerous Cleveland State squad. Last time out, the Eagles bested Texas-Arlington by a count of 74-69. Eastern Michigan opened the year with victories over Albion, 77-45, and Concordia, 95-50.

Three Keys

Attacking the 2-3 zone – The Eagles, not surprisingly, employ a very tough, very Syracuse-like 2-3 zone. Of course, the best way to beat a zone is by spreading the court and using crisp ball movement, penetration, and solid outside shooting, three things this young UK team is struggling with when facing zone defenses. The Eagles are holding opponents to 33.3 percent overall field-goal shooting and 27.7 percent from beyond the arc while posting 10.0 blocks per game and 8.0 steals, making today’s game a true test of Kentucky’s ability to execute John Calipari’s game plan.

Eastern Michigan

Record: 5-0
Head coach: Rob Murphy (35-26 at Eastern Michigan)
Ranking: N/A
Nickname: Eagles
Player to watch: Karrington Ward (averaging 18.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game)
Series history: UK leads 1-0
Last meeting: UK won 90-38 on Jan. 2, 2013

Maintaining focus – With UK relying on overly talented young players who have experienced nothing but success on the basketball court in high school, maintaining focus when playing early-season opponents is a challenge. In today’s game, the Cats are taking on an EMU squad fully capable of pulling off the upset, and UK waiting until late in the second half to begin playing with a purpose might be too late.

2-point shooting by the big men – Last time out against Cleveland State, Kentucky’s big men — Julius Randle, Marcus Lee, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — combined to connect on only 8 of 22 field goals from inside the arc (36.4 percent). With EMU possessing a legitimate shot blocker in Riley, the challenge today when getting into the paint is the use of ball and shot fakes to get Riley off of his feet, or possibly passing out of trouble in order to gain a higher percentage shot.

Key Matchup

Kentucky guards vs. Eastern Michigan guards – On the perimeter for EMU it all begins with Raven Lee. Lee is a dead-eye shooter, making 52.6 percent of his shots from inside the arc and 58.8 percent of his 3-point attempts. Coming off the bench against Texas-Arlington in EMU’s last contest, Lee lit up UTA with 38 points on 5 of 5 shooting from long range and 12 of 15 overall shooting. Talley, the Eagles’ point guard, is outstanding at taking care of the basketball, as he averages only 1.8 turnovers per game (against 4.0 assists). Darell Combs, a 6-2 sophomore guard, is another accurate 3-point point shooter, having made 4 of 10 trey tries on the season. Against UTA, Combs netted 18 points after making 2 of 3 from distance, and getting to the foul line, as he connected on 8-10 from the charity stripe.

Kentucky’s guards, the Harrison twins, James Young and Dominique Hawkins, must apply pressure to EMU’s perimeter players by getting into the passing lanes, forcing the Eagles out of their comfort zone. How successful UK is in disrupting Eastern Michigan’s perimeter play and forcing EMU to re-write its offensive game plan on the fly will go a long way in determining who wins this game.

Trends

  • Through the Cats’ first four games, they allowed only 27.8 percent 3-point accuracy (23 of 83). In the last two games, UK has allowed its opponents to shoot a combined 13 of 34 from the 3-point line (38.2 percent).
  • UK has forced 41 turnovers the last three games (13.7 per game) after turning over its opponents only 29 times in the first three games (9.7 per game).
  • The Cats’ opponents have recorded more than four steals only twice all season.
  • Through UK’s first three games, the Cats connected on only 76 of 122 free throws (62.3 percent). In the last three contests, Kentucky has made 78 of 108 from the stripe (72.2 percent).
  • Over the last three games, UK has dished out 48 assists (16.0 per game) after handing out only 32 dimes through the first three contests (10.7 per game).
  • UK recorded 17 blocks in the first three games of the season (5.7 per game), but in the last three contests the Cats have swatted 26 shot attempts (8.7 per game).
  • Kentucky has connected on more than 32.0 percent of its 3-point shots only twice in six games, against Robert Morris and Texas-Arlington.

Team stats

UK Eastern Michigan
Scoring offense 86.0 79.2
Scoring defense 64.0 59.4
FG percentage 47.3 48.9
FG percentage defense 36.3 33.3
3-point percentage 30.5 45.2
3-point percentage defense 30.8 27.7
FT percentage 67.0 65.5
Rebound margin +16.7 -1.0
Steals per game 5.0 8.0
Blocks per game 7.2 10.0
Assists per game 13.3 15.0
Turnover margin 0.0 +6.4

Individual leaders

UK Eastern Michigan
Points per game Julius Randle (19.8) Karrington Ward (18.2)
Rebounds per game Julius Randle (13.8) Karrington Ward (6.2)
Field-goal percentage Marcus Lee (77.8) Da’Shonte Riley (56.3)
3-point percentage Andrew Harrison (46.7) Raven Lee (58.8)
Free-throw percentage Andrew Harrison (78.8) Daylen Harrison (100.0)
Assists per game Andrew Harrison (3.8) Mike Talley (4.0)
Blocks per game Willie Cauley-Stein (2.5) Da’Shonte Riley (5.2)
Steals per game Willie Cauley-Stein (1.5) Raven Lee (1.8)

The Wrap-up

It’s an early tip-off Wednesday with the Cats taking Cawood’s Court at 4 p.m. ET. Television coverage is provided by Fox Sports South and the UK/IMG Network. As always, complete pre-, in-, and post-game coverage will be brought to you by CoachCal.com.