Well, it’s that time of the year again, the time of year all Kentucky basketball fans eagerly await. March Madness, to most regions of the country, is a time to fill out brackets while acquainting oneself with far away teams and coaches, but in the Bluegrass, it’s the towering pinnacle of the season most dear in the minds and hearts of ‘Cat fans around the globe.
As Kentucky enters its (record) 51st Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Commonwealth is abuzz with the excitement created by UK’s thrilling victories in the SEC tournament. The entire Big Blue Nation witnessed the evolution process, live and in color, as the once inexperienced, youthful ‘Cats, came of age. Emphatically affirming what we thought we were witnessing in UK’s late season wins over Florida, Vanderbilt, and at Tennessee.
Today, though, standing in the way of Kentucky (25-8) surviving and advancing in the Big Dance are the Princeton Tigers (25-6), winners of a one-game playoff with hard luck Harvard for the Ivy League regular season championship (the Crimson haven’t been to an NCAA tournament since 1946). Coached by 4th year head man Sydney Johnson (66-52), these Tigers are not your father’s slow-paced, back-door-cut crazy Ivy Leaguers of Pete Carril (Carril, by the way, won 525 games in his college career, his final victory, a 43-41 upset of defending champion UCLA in the 1996 NCAA tournament, a game in which Sydney Johnson played). Although these Tigers, like Carril’s teams, will knock down the trey with regularity, they also are not afraid to get physical, and are lengthy and defensive in the front court.
Johnson runs a hybrid of the Princeton motion offense invented by Carril, with plenty of screens, and shooters looking to break free, but they also pay plenty of offensive attention to their big timber. Evidenced by the fact that the two leading scorers for Princeton this year are both big men:
6’8″ Kareem Maddox (13.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg), and 6’7″ sophomore Ian Hummer (13.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) — Both Maddox and Hummer are making over 55.0% of their shots from the field, while dishing-out a combined 4.5 assists per contest. Both players are solid shot blockers, with Maddox swatting 1.8 shots per game, and Hummer 1.1. The duo also help the Tigers keep the opponent off the offensive backboard (a UK strength), which could cause problems for the ‘Cats today. They both average over 30 minutes of action per game.
6’8″ junior Patrick Saunders and 6’9″ sophomore Mack Darrow combine to play about 40 minutes per game in the post. Neither player is a big scorer, with Saunders putting up 5.6 points per contest, and Darrow 4.3, but they are versatile — the two combined to make 47 three-pointers on the year. Joining Saunders and Hummer off the Tiger bench is 6’11″ sophomore center Brendan Donnolly. Donnolly plays only 13.1 minutes per game, but he snags an average of 2.7 rebounds, and scores just over 3.0 points per game.
Leading the back court for the Tigers are two solid, athletic, experienced guards, in the form of 6’4″ senior Dan Mavraides (12.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.8 apg) and 5’11″ junior Doug Davis (11.9 ppg, 1.7 apg). Davis, who makes 39.5% of his three-point shots, hit the final second, game-winning shot against Harvard, and is a player UK must not allow to get free on the perimeter. His running mate Mavraides is also dangerous from beyond the arc, having connected on 38.6% of his three-point tries.
• Princeton ranks in the top 75 nationally in several statistical categories, here’s a sampling of the most important:
• Offense: 73.1 Def. Reb% (10th), 46.5 FG% (39th), 73.1 FT% (54th), 36.8 3PT% (61st), 1.07 Points Per Possession (66th).
• Defense: 26.9 Off. Reb% (10th), 48.5 Assist% (43rd), 63.2 Points Per Game (52nd), 5.7 Steals Per Game (64th), 32.6 3PT% (70th).
Tiger RPI Top 100 Wins and Losses
Wins: Bucknell, Tulsa, and Harvard twice.
Losses: Duke, Central Florida, Harvard.
Feelin’ Good About the ‘Cats
Every Wildcat fan wants to feel positive vibes about the team as they enter tourney play. So here are some reasons to feel good about the ‘Cats, as we enter the madness (you can thank me later):
Darius Miller is averaging 15.4 points per game over the last nine UK contests … During that span, Miller has made 50 of 85 field goal attempts (58.8%), and in the last 10 games, he has connected on 20 of 40 trey tries (50.0%).
Brandon Knight, in his last nine games, has handed out 49 assists (5.4 pg) and committed only 22 turnovers (2.4 pg) … WOW! (that’s all I have on that)
Josh Harrellson is averaging 8.1 points per game over the last seven games, and has scored in double-digits three times … In his last 12 games, Jorts is making 62.0% shots from the field … Harrellson, in the last seven games, is grabbing an average of 9.3 rebounds per game, to go along with 4.0 offensive rebounds.
DeAndre Liggins has made 27 of his last 51 shots from the field in the last eight games (52.9%); his first 25 games he shot 39.4% from the floor … Ligs has made eight of his last 13 three-point tries (61.5%) … In the last four games, Liggins is snatching 6.5 boards per game.
Doron Lamb, over the last six games, has made 26 of 51 shots from the field (51.0%) … Lamb has connected on 50.0% of his three-point shots over the last six games (9-18).
And finally, the big man, Eloy Vargas, over his last 45 minutes of action has produced these numbers — Nine points, 12 rebounds, four blocks, one steal, and one turnover. Vargas has made five of eight free throws, and two of three shots from the field.
Tip-off is scheduled for approximately 2:45 ET on CBS with Ian Eagle on play-by-play and Jim Spanarkel on color. David Aldridge is your sideline reporter.