Kansas-Kentucky Showdown to Feature Matchup of Experience Vs. Youth in Backcourt
When Kansas visits Kentucky on Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, the 38 credentialed NBA personnel are expected to focus on the matchups in the backcourt.
Between them, the two bluebloods have six players projected in the 2017 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com, with five of them being backcourt or wing players.
Kentucky freshmen guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are projected as the Nos. 6 and 7 picks, while sophomore Isaiah Briscoe is currently listed at No. 50. Kentucky freshman center Bam Adebayo is the only big man in the game projected in the draft (No. 16).
For Kansas, freshman wing Josh Jackson is the projected No. 4 pick, while junior guard Devonte’ Graham is listed at No. 37. Kansas senior guard Frank Mason, a National Player of the Year candidate, should get a chance to prove he belongs in the NBA, too.
“I think there’s other matchups that will be key but I think most eyes will be on those four guys,” Kansas coach Bill Self said Thursday of Fox, Monk, Graham and Mason.
Kentucky, as usual, is relying on high profile freshmen in the backcourt. Fox and Monk were the co-MVPs of the Jordan Brand Classic last April, when Carmelo Anthony presented them with their trophies.
Kansas, meantime, has arguably the most experienced backcourt in the nation, and maybe the best.
“You’ve got the prototypical experience against youth and the youth is lottery-pick talent without question that have shown that they can play at the very highest level and certainly play at a level that is better on some days than anybody else in the country has played,” said Self, whose team is coming off a loss at West Virginia on Tuesday night.
“And then you have some guys on our side that are pretty consistent and tough and solid and have been through a lot of wars together, so I think it makes for a great matchup.”
Self also says not to sleep on Briscoe, the former Roselle (N.J.) Catholic star, “who I think sometimes doesn’t get the attention or the notoriety that he deserves. But I’m not there every day, maybe he does.
“But from the outside looking in, there’s been so much emphasis on Fox and Monk, deservedly so, but Briscoe is a terrific guard that I know that opponents that play against him know how good he is.”
While Self embraces the backcourt matchups, Kentucky coach John Calipari said he doesn’t want his team, which is coming off a loss at Tennessee, to worry too much about individual matchups.
“What I don’t want to have our guys do is get into the one-on-one stuff,” Calipari said Thursday. “We’ve slipped a little bit in our ball movement and creating shots for each other and kind of slipped to let me go get something here, and if not let me try to pass it now. So let’s hope that my team doesn’t get into that.
“But I will tell you that these are veteran guards [at Kansas], they’re crafty. Watching the tape from a year ago, they’re not going to make a whole lot of mistakes that are unforced. If you leave them open, if you lose sight, it’s a three. They’re shooting a high, high number from the three-point line so it’s a big-time challenge for these young kids.”
Calipari said Mychal Mulder (illness) could miss up to “10 days.” “I could be wrong one way or the other, but I would guess 10 days,” he said.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.