BC-BKC--NCAA-Midwest Region Preview
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — They are the bluebloods of the Bluegrass, a storied program loaded with future NBA players, who come to Kentucky with the very reasonable expectation of contending for a national championship during their brief tenure.
Then there’s Wofford.
Where is that exactly?
Terriers standout Fletcher Magee can tell you — now that he’s been in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for four years.
“I did not know exactly where Wofford was until I went up and visited it,” Magee, who is from Orlando, Florida, conceded with a bit of an embarrassed grin. “But I can say that it actually is a great place. It’s like one of the best-kept secrets. You don’t know what it is, and when you get there, it’s awesome.”
The basketball program isn’t too shabby, either.
Bring on the mighty Wildcats!
“They may whip our tail, but it will not be because my kids are scared,” Wofford coach Mike Young said Friday. “They’ll come out ready to fight.”
The Terriers (30-4) already have had a historic season. They breezed through the Southern Conference with an unbeaten record, most of them blowouts. They received a No. 7 seed, the highest for their league in four decades. They are riding a 21-game winning streak that includes the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history, an 84-68 triumph over Seton Hall in the opening round of the Midwest Regional.
Next up is Kentucky (28-6), a team that boasts a resume with eight national championships, 48 Southeastern Conference titles and the most wins of any program in Division I history.
“I don’t think it’s like we’re a favorite,” Wildcats coach John Calipari said. “Come on now, this team is legitimate in every form and fashion, including defense, including toughness, including veteran play.”
The Wofford-Kentucky game in Jacksonville is one of two Midwest Regional matchups on Saturday. The other is No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Auburn in Salt Lake City.
For the second game in a row, Kentucky will be without its leading scorer and rebounder, PJ Washington. He sprained his left foot in the SEC Tournament and is wearing a hard cast in an attempt to speed up the healing.
The Wildcats didn’t need Washington in their NCAA opener, a 79-44 rout of No. 15 seed Abilene Christian. His absence could be more of an issue against Wofford, thought Nick Richards didn’t think it would be an issue.
The Kentucky center bluntly declared that his team should have an edge in the frontcourt, even with Washington watching from the bench.
“They’re not really as athletic,” Richards said of the Terriers. “Their bigs are really skilled around the basket, they know how to move on the floor, but we’re just better than them overall, I think, so the advantage is our way, in my opinion.”
Calipari shook his head when he heard about the potential bulletin-board material.
“What are you doing, Nick?” the coach said. “But that’s OK, because like if you speak, now what? You back it up. So I love his confidence. Now I want to watch you do it.”
Wofford, a small, private school with about 1,700 undergraduates, doesn’t want to be portrayed as some sort of giant-killer. It may be hard to find on a map, but it’s clear that the Terriers have a talented squad. Magee leads the way, having surpassed an NCAA career record for 3-pointers in the victory over Seton Hall.
“We’ve got really good players. Kentucky has got really good players. Let’s go play,” Young said. “I tire of the mid-major and the little guy and all this stuff. Come on, man. You know, we have good players that are serious and love competing.”
HANG ON TO THE BALL
Ball security has not been a strong suit for Kansas this season, particularly the roster turnover the Jayhawks have gone through.
The Jayhawks (26-9) will get a huge ball-handling test against Auburn (27-9), which plays at a frenetic pace with constant pressure that forces teams into mistakes and often leads to easy baskets in transition.
The Tigers were sixth nationally during the regular season, forcing 17.68 turnovers per game, and scored 15 points off New Mexico State’s 16 turnovers in its 78-77 squeaker to open the tournament.
Kansas averages 13.4 turnovers per game, tied for 221st in Division I. The Jayhawks romped past Northeastern 87-54 in the opening round.
“Certainly, a big key to playing them tomorrow from an offensive standpoint will be the elimination of live-ball turnovers where they can create numbers in transition or shoot 3s,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We’re going to have to — careful isn’t the right word. We will need to be strong with the ball.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
AP Basketball Writer John Marshall contributed to this report from Salt Lake City.
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