The No. 18 Texas Tech men’s basketball team will host No. 15 Kentucky at 5 p.m. on Saturday for the Big 12/SEC Challenge in the United Supermarkets Arena. It will be the first time since 1994 these teams will face each other, with the Wildcats posting a 4-0 all time record against the Red Raiders.
Kentucky will come into this match with a 14-4 record following its 89-79 win over Georgia on Tuesday. The Red Raiders are now 12-6 on the year after getting upset by Texas Christian, 65-54, on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats and Red Raiders have similar rosters. Both squads only have three upperclassmen and are composed of mainly freshman. Kentucky had the third best recruiting class last season, according to ESPN, which looks to make up for the losses of Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and PJ Washington. All three of those athletes were taken in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft.
Kentucky has five returning players from last season’s roster, but of those five, only one, sophomore guard Ashton Hagans, played a significant role. Hagans averaged 28 minutes a game, averaging 7.7 points and 4.3 assists per game. Three of the returners were role players last season, but have made the leap to more playing time and starts since the 2019-20 season started.
The starting roster for Kentucky seems to vary from game to game. Nine of their 12 player have earned starts this season with eight of those players starting in five or more games. The most likely starting lineup, and the one used most recently, consists of Hagans, Nick Richards, Immanuel Quickley, EJ Montgomery and Tyrese Maxey. Maxey, who was the No. 13 recruit coming out of the 2019 class last season, according to ESPN, is the only freshman with double-digit starts for the team.
Four Wildcat players are averaging 13 points or more this season, according to the SEC. Richards, Quickley, Hagans and Maxey all have put up 230 plus points and are averaging just over 13 points per game this season.
Hagans is a stat-sheet stuffer. Along with his 13 points, he averages 7.3 assists and 2.2 steals a game, both of which are in the top-5 amongst SEC players, according to SEC sports. Richards is also recording about 2.5 blocks a game, which is third in the SEC, and is grabbing 7.8 rebounds a game, which is sixth in the SEC.
At Tech, there has been trouble getting consistency out of the young roster. Most of Tech’s minutes are going to freshmen Jahmi’us Ramsey, Terrence Shannon Jr and Kevin McCullar, who are relatively inexperienced when it comes to college basketball.
Shannon will see a familiar face on the Wildcats’ roster as he and Kahlil Whitney played basketball together on the Mac Irvin Fire grassroots team in 2018. Despite averaging just 12 minutes a game, Whitney was the No. 12 recruit coming out of the 2019 recruiting class, according to ESPN.
Ramsey and Shannon are both averaging double-digit points with 15.5 and 11.4 respectively. Ramsey leads the team in points per game and three-point percentage. McCullar has been playing strong as of late. While his production does not show up on the stat sheet, only averaging four points and two rebounds, he is constantly around the ball on the defensive end and seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Ramsey is ranked seventh in the Big 12 in points per game and is sixth in field goal percentage, shooting around 45 percent per game.
Returning guards Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards have been playing some of their best basketball the past week, and both are averaging double-digit points as well. Moretti is posting 13 points a game while Edwards is at 11.8. Both guards can defend as well as score. Edwards is second on the team in blocks with 15 and third in steals with 20. Moretti leads the team with 23 steals and is shooting 91.5 percent from the free-throw line.
Graduate transfer Chris Clarke is the ultimate facilitator. The 6’6” point forward is second in the Big 12 in assists with 5.4 a game, according to Tech athletics stats, and has an assist to turnover ration of 2.2, which is third in the conference.
As a team, both Kentucky and Tech rank second in their respective conferences in assists per game. The Red Raiders are averaging 16.2 assists per game, according to ESPN, while the Wildcats are averaging about 15 assists per game. Passing the ball around and hitting teammates at the right time will be a large factor in this game.
With 2,030 students qualifying for a guaranteed ticket to the game, 2,270 student seats remain. For those who will not attend the game, the ranked matchup will be televised on ESPN.