John Calipari’s one-and-done model at Kentucky offers unique challenges that few other coaches face and he’ll continue to tinker with the country’s youngest team when the No. 4 Wildcats host East Tennessee State on Friday. Kentucky is coming off its first loss of the season — 65-61 to No. 3 Kansas on Tuesday in the Champions Classic in Chicago — as the coach ponders whether to employ a zone defense again.
Calipari told reporters he wanted his team to play zone for 40 minutes against the Jayhawks, “and then naturally I didn’t play one down of it” after his staff talked him out of it. “... When you have a young team like that, a bunch of freshmen, it’s much easier to play zone than to try to teach them man-to-man principles and all the other stuff, which is what we’re trying to do,” said Calipari, who employed a zone in stretches during the season opener versus Utah Valley. The Wildcats are starting five freshmen including 6-9 forward Kenny Knox, who recorded 20 points and seven rebounds while shooting 8-of-13 from the field versus Kansas after going a combined 6-for-23 in victories over Utah Valley and Vermont. The Buccaneers, who were voted to finish fourth with two of the 10 first-place votes in the Southern Conference coaches poll, are coming off a 76-61 victory at Savannah State on Monday behind a career-high 28 points by senior guard Devontavius Payne.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network, ESPN3
ABOUT ETSU (1-1): Payne bounced back from a sub-par performance in an 81-63 loss to Northern Kentucky on Nov. 10 when he scored five points on 2-of-9 shooting from the field. Senior guard Desonta Bradford, a preseason all-Southern Conference selection, is averaging 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, and dished out eight assists versus Savannah State. Sophomore guard Jason Williams missed the opener while in the concussion protocol before scoring 15 points Monday.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (2-1): Hamidou Diallo, a 6-5 freshman guard, averages a team-best 16 points after scoring 18, 16 and 14 in his first three games while adding five rebounds and four assists versus Kansas. Knox averages 14.3 points and a team-high 7.0 rebounds as the only other double-figure scorer. P.J. Washington, a 6-7 freshman forward, had two points, four blocks, three assists and two rebounds against Kansas after recording 17 points and 10 rebounds versus Vermont.
1. The Wildcats are 63-0 under Calipari when holding their opponent to 55 points or fewer.
2. Kentucky is 216-4 under Calipari when leading by 10 or more points at any time.
3. The Buccaneers have lost all four meetings with the Wildcats, including back-to-back decisions in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament 100-71 and in the 2010-11 season opener 88-65.
PREDICTION: Kentucky 80, East Tennessee State 58