Terriers, Wildcats meet for first time ever with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line
The Kentucky Wildcats and the Wofford Terriers couldn't be more different from one another. While both teams are no strangers to the NCAA Tournament, they have completely different tournament resumes. The Wildcats are eight-time national champions while the Terriers are 1-4 in the Big Dance. The University of Kentucky has produced 116 NBA draft picks compared to Wofford College's two (none since 1981). Both teams have been around since the 1900s, but Kentucky has a well established reputation as one of the blue bloods of college basketball.
On Saturday, these two schools will meet for the first time as part of the second round of the NCAA Tournament. While Kentucky has never played Wofford before, the Wildcats were members of the Southern Conference from 1920-32 (112-30 conference record, two SoCon titles). In the same token, the Terriers are no stranger to SEC opposition themselves but have gone just 4-37 against teams from that conference.
This time the stakes are greater as John Calipari's Wildcats (28-6) are looking for their first national title since 2012, while Mike Young's Terriers (30-4) are hoping to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. This will be one of the more intruging matchups of the second round.
On Thursday, Kentucky made short work of an Abilene Christian team (79-44) that was playing in its first NCAA Tournament game. In typical Wildcats fashion, they outplayed their lesser opponents in every facet of the game. They hope to do the same against Wofford. Speaking of the Terriers, they litterally rained down one shot after another in am 84-68 victory over Seton Hall. The win was Wofford's first in the NCAA Tournament (0-4 prior) and the the Terriers are no doubt primed and pumped to face one of the top programs in all of college basketball.
Kentucky must get past Wofford to make another deep tournament run, but the Terriers look to show that they won't go down without a fight and are thinking upset.
Midwest Region: No. 7 Wofford Terriers (30-4) vs. No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (28-6)
Time: Approximately 2:40 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Where: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Keys for Wofford
Give the ball to Fletcher Magee and let him work his magic. The Seton Hall Pirates didn't know what hit them on Thursday night as Magee scored 24 points, made 7-of-14 field goals, all of his makes coming from long range, and became the NCAA's all-time leading 3-point shooter (505 made) in the process. In Kentucky's last five games the Wildcats have surrendered 28 made 3-pointers, so they can be susceptible to teams that can shoot well from beyond the arc.
Of course Magee didn't do it by himself as he had help from forwards Cameron Jackson and Keve Aluma (22 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, and three blocked shots combined), as well as fellow guards Nathan Hoover (18 points on 5-of-11 shooting) and Storm Murphy (11 points, three steals, one assist).
Magee will need to have the hot hand against a Kentucky team that's outscored opponents 376-314 over the last five games and has gone 4-1 in the process. Magee's precise shooting combined with some help from his supporting cast, and another strong defensive effort, will go a long way on Saturday.
Keys for Kentucky
In order to slow down Magee and his precision shooting the Wildcats will have to defend the perimeter, and of course lean on their star power. In Thursday's win over Abilene Christian the Wildcats from the SEC got double-figure scoring from guard Keldon Johnson (25 points), forward Reid Travis (18), and fellow guard Tyler Herro (14). Kentucky dominated the glass, out-rebounding the smaller Wildcats 44-17 with E.J. Montgomery (11 boards) and Travis (nine) leading the way.
As a team Kentucky shot 54 percent from the field but only 4-of-14 from 3-point range. That will need to improve, especially against a team like Wofford that makes a living from beyond the arc. The Wildcats will need another total team effort on both ends of the floor, especially since it looks like leading scorer and rebounder PJ Washington will miss another game because of a sprained foot. On defense, UK will need to make defending the 3-point line a priority. The Terriers are second in the country in 3-point percentage, hitting an impressive 42 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. They went 13-for-28 (46.4 percent) on 3-pointers in the win over Seton Hall.
This will be one of the more entertaining tournament games in recent memory. Expect Magee to try and match Kentucky nearly shot for shot in a high-scoring affair. While Wofford has been a great team to watch this year, Kentucky's experience, athleticism and talent will carry them through in the end. The Terriers make it difficult but the Wildcats pull out a close victory.
Prediction: Kentucky 81, Wofford 79
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.