No. 9 Kentucky will be gunning for its eighth straight victory when the Wildcats meet Seton Hall Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“We had coaches in here watching us yesterday,” Kentucky’s John Calipari said, “and the one coach came up to me and said, ‘Reid Travis never takes his eye off you. When you talk, he’s watching the whole time.’ Like, it’s incredible that this kid is so focused. He’s on a mission. How about if we had everyone on that same mission? I mean, now all a sudden this thing gets a little crazy.
“I just want people to respect that we have really good players who are not playing to the level they’re capable of playing. But we’ve got really good players. Don’t think we don’t. But if you don’t compete and if you don’t fight to win — if you don’t fight for your space — you look like you’re just OK. Every day is that process we’re working on.”
Seton Hall comes into the game at its home away from home arena with a 5-3 record, but has won four of its last five. The Pirates have defeated Wagner, Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Miami and New Hampshire and has lost to Nebraska, Saint Louis and Louisville.
Kentucky (7-1) is led in scoring by freshman guard Keldon Johnson at 15.9 points per game. Three others are in double figures — Reid Travis (14.6), PJ Washington (12.1), and Tyler Herro (11.8). Washington is the top rebounder at 8.4 per game.
Seton Hall is paced by Myles Powell, who is averaging 22.4 points per game.
“It’s a challenge,” Calipari said of defending Powell. “The other thing with it is you can’t foul. So maybe he’s going to make some tough shots; you just can’t foul. So whoever’s on him and how we play that, you’ve got to play him to make it tough, but he still may score baskets.
“When you have that ultimate green light you make baskets because, ‘It doesn’t matter, I’m going to shoot the next one, I’ll shoot the next one. I’m going to make one of these.’ It’s a different way of thinking about it.”
The only other player in double figures is Michael Nzei at 11.3 points per game. Sandro Mamukelashvili is the top rebounder at 7.9.
To pull the upset, Seton Hall will have to contend with the nation’s best rebounding team. Kentucky is No. 1 in rebounding margin, claiming 41.6 while allowing just 24.9. The Wildcats have yet to be outrebounded in any game this season.
The one opening for the Pirates is that Kentucky allows opponents to shoot 39.7 percent from 3-point range. That ranks 334th out of 351 teams nationally. Unfortunately, Seton Hall makes only 29.7 percent of its 3-point shots, which ranks 298th nationally.
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard knows Kentucky will provide a major challenge.
“It’s big because they’re quite different than what we’ve played against so far,” Willard said of Kentucky, per Zagsblog. “They’re longer, more athletic. Their pace is much quicker than the teams we’ve been playing, so what I like is about the game is, it’s going to be like playing Creighton. It’s a long, athletic team that gets up and down. It’s a good test for us.”