Four pregame notes for Kentucky versus Saint Peter’s


Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari, right, coaches forward Jacob Toppin (0) during the UK vs. Tennessee SEC Tournament semifinal mens basketball game on Saturday, March 12, 2022, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. UK lost 69-62. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

INDIANAPOLIS—It’s tournament time. Kentucky is set to begin its quest for its ninth national championship in program history inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse against Saint Peter’s University.

Here are five notes that could dictate the first round between the Wildcats and Peacocks: 

3-point defense 

The Peacocks pride themselves on their defense. Saint Peter’s ranks sixth in the country in field goal defense, holding opponents to 38.3 percent shooting. 

From beyond the arch they defend nearly just as well, sitting at 14th in the nation, giving up just 29.3 percent of 3-point attempts to opponents. 

Saint Peter’s isn’t going to out-score the Wildcats, but they sure can out-defend them. 

Kellan Grady, Kentucky’s leading shooter from downtown hasn’t found his normal rhythm as of late, making Thursday night a tough matchup for the Davidson transfer.

UK is going to need a few treys to fall if it is to breeze past its No. 15 seed foe. 

Funneling the basketball to Oscar Tshiebwe

Tshiebwe is going to hold a major size advantage over whoever he goes up against from Saint Peter’s.

John Calipari’s game plan should be relatively simple on Thursday night: Get the ball to the frontrunner for National Player of the Year. 

As good of a defending team that the Peacocks may be, there might not be an answer for what Tshiebwe is capable of doing. Even Shaheen Holloway, Saint Peter’s head coach thinks so. 

“I don’t have a blueprint right now to guard him.”

March Madness is centered around guard play, but when a once in a lifetime player enters your program, throw that out of the window. The offense is going to run through Tshiebwe. 

Matching the Peacocks’ depth 

Holloway has ran 12-deep this season, spreading out minutes across the board. No Peacock averages more than 26 minutes per game. 

Calipari has vaunted about his team’s depth all season. He will have an opportunity to match longer rotations on Thursday if he so chooses.

Another cliché of March is that when it gets down to brass tax, teams ditch going deep and keep it tight-knit with the best five they have to offer. In Rutgers’ First Four  double overtime matchup against Notre Dame, the Scarlet Knights scored zero bench points. 

The starting fives of each team are night and day. Kentucky’s group is arguably the best in the nation and can carry the Cats to the promised land. Less can be said of the Metro Atlantic Athletic conference champions. 

Bryce Hopkins and Lance Ware would likely start for the Peacocks, but how many minutes will Calipari play them in the first round? 

Getting caught in the madness 

Saint Peter’s is going to come out guns blazing inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Kentucky knows that. If the Peacocks get hot early, how do the Wildcats respond? 

Calipari finally has a team that has experience, although it isn’t from the NCAA Tournament. As the hall of famer knows, March is a different animal. 

Will the Cats have any jitters? If so, how will they kick them? 

UK can prepare as hard as it wants, but when its time to lace up the sneakers and take that court plastered with ‘March Madness’ logos, will the Wildcats rise to the occasion? 

Likely, the answers to these questions will be yes. Calipari lives for March and won’t let his team get caught with their pants around their ankles. But what if the answer is no? 

Any and all questions are set to be answered at 7:10 p.m. EST, as Kentucky looks to re-insert itself in the national championship conversation.