After feasting on weaker competition for the past six games, fifth-ranked Kentucky faces a difficult test when it hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Hokies have won seven straight and possess the nation’s top offense.
It’s the first of three tough tests in a row to close out non-conference play for the Wildcats, whose only previous game against a Power Five opponent was a 65-61 loss to Kansas on Nov. 14. “This will be a hard game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told the school’s website. “Look, we are at that stage with this team: We win or we learn. That’s where we are. I’m not taking it any other way. We win or we’ll learn. And we are going to learn as individual players where guys are and as a team where we are.” The Hokies are coming off a 93-40 thrashing of Maryland-Eastern Shore, and eight of their nine wins have come by at least 24 points. Those triumphs have included blowouts of Washington (103-79) and Iowa (79-55) as well as an 83-80 overtime victory at Ole Miss.
TV: 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (9-1): The Hokies lead the nation in field-goal percentage (55.3), scoring (96.2 points) and scoring margin (25.5) while ranking second in 3-point field-goal percentage (46.8). Six players average at least nine points and four put up at least 13 per game, with guards Justin Bibbs (17.5 points) and Ahmed Hill (16.6, 4.6 rebounds) leading the way. Freshman swingman Nickeil Alexander-Walker (14.4 points) and Kerry Blackshear Jr. (13) also average double digits in points while point guard Justin Robinson (9.9, 5.8 assists) is on the cusp and leads the team in assists.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (8-1): Unlike the Hokies, the Wildcats don’t let it fly from 3-point range often, as only 22.6 percent of their field-goal attempts come from beyond the arc - the lowest percentage in the nation. The youthful team consists of eight freshmen and no seniors, but what it lacks in experience, it more than makes up for in height, with six players standing 6-9 or taller. Four players average double digits in points, including freshmen Kevin Knox (15.2 points, 5.8 rebounds) and Hamidou Diallo (14.7, 4.7).
1. Kentucky G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 21 steals are tied with Rajon Rondo for the most in program history through the first nine games of a season.
2. Gilgeous-Alexander and Alexander-Walker are first cousins and played high-school ball together at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn.
3. Virginia Tech has scored at least 90 points seven times this season, its highest total since doing so on 14 occasions in 1988-89.
PREDICTION: Kentucky 81, Virginia Tech 79