“It’s a historic place,” ETSU point guard Desonta Bradford said. “They’ve had a lot of NBA guys go through there, a lot of great guys. It’s one of the powerhouses of college basketball, so coming from a fan’s perspective, everybody wants to play in a place like that.”
That being said, the Bucs aren’t going to just show up and be happy to play. They know if they can pull off the upset, everybody in the country will have heard of ETSU by Saturday morning.
“That’s the goal, to always win,” Bradford said. “We go into every game thinking we’re going to win so it would be great for everybody around the country to know who we are.
“We’re going there to win, play hard and try to win. At the end of the day, we’re all humans. We’re all capable of the same thing. That’s the way I look at it. I don’t really think like they’re Kentucky or anything like that. We all just have to go out there and play.”
When Bucs coach Steve Forbes was an assistant at Tennessee, he faced the Wildcats several times. He’s excited to see how his team reacts in one of the top atmospheres in college basketball. Kentucky always leads the country in attendance. Rupp Arena holds 23,500 fans.
“It’ll be special,” Forbes said. “I’ve been to Rupp before, obviously. It wasn’t a lot of fun. It’s probably one of the best venues in college basketball. It gives our guys a chance to play on a big stage.”
Kentucky (2-1) is coming off a 65-61 loss to No. 4 Kansas. The Wildcats have wins over Utah Valley (73-63) and Vermont (73-69). Vermont missed two potential game-tying 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds before Kentucky iced it with a free throw.
So far this season, the Wildcats haven’t been scoring much but it’s been their defense that has impressed Forbes, especially against Kansas.
“It’s pretty clear their defense is at high level,” Forbes said. “Their offense is a work in progress because they have so many young guys. I was impressed with the way they protected the rim.
“It might be the longest, tallest team I’ve ever coached against. They have so much size and length at every position They make it really hard for you to score.”
Kentucky has a talented but inexperienced team with eight freshmen on the 14-man roster. And those freshmen are quite a group. It’s been called one of John Calipari’s top recruiting class. Some call it his best.
That’s saying something because of the eight players he lost from last year’s team, three were taken in the first round of the NBA draft.
This group, Calipari’s youngest team ever, will have to replace 93 percent of the scoring and 77 percent of the rebounding of last year’s team which went 32-6 and won its 30th Southeastern Conference tournament championship.
“This is going to be a process,” Calipari said. “We all have to accept it. I have to accept it. I have to stay positive, I’m trying really hard. At my age, it’s very difficult to accept some of this stuff, but I have to because we’re just so young.”
Hamidou Diallo, a 6-foot-5 red-shirt freshman, averages 16.0 points per game to lead the Wildcats. Kevin Knox, a 6-foot-9 freshman, averages 14.3 and started to come into his own with a 20-point effort against Kansas.
A look at the Bucs
Meanwhile, the Bucs (1-1) are coming off a 76-61 victory over Savannah State. It was a much needed outcome after a season-opening 18-point loss at Northern Kentucky.
Devontavius Payne led the way with a career-high 28 points.
ETSU will have to solve the turnover problem it’s had through the first two games. They’ve turned the ball over 20 times in each contest.
On a positive note, the Bucs have out-rebounded their opponents in both games.
The game is part of the Adolph Rupp Classic and as part of the event ETSU gets three home games next week, against Delaware State on Nov. 20, Troy on Nov. 22 and Fort Wayne on Nov. 25.
“We’ll see how much progress we’ve made,” Forbes said. “That’s what we have to do the entire year, we just have to keep getting better so when the league comes around we’re ready to roll.”