Busting Brackets

Kentucky vs. Robert Morris: 2021-22 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Nov 9, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) reacts after dunking the ball against the Duke Blue Devils during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 9, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) reacts after dunking the ball against the Duke Blue Devils during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

Two teams responsible for a historic upset less than a decade ago will meet again on Friday evening in Kentucky and Robert Morris.

TV schedule: Friday, November 12, 7:00 pm ET. SEC Network

Arena: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky

For the first time in eight years, the Kentucky Wildcats will meet the Robert Morris Colonials for another bout in what was once an unexpected rivalry between a blue-blood and a mid-major – and for a showdown that could reveal much about both programs.

Meeting for just the third time in history, Kentucky and Robert Morris will duel for the first time since 2013, when both programs met twice in the same year.  The first meeting served as the most iconic, as the Colonials famously knocked off Kentucky in the opening round of the NIT in Robert Morris’ gym in March, 59-57; the Wildcats would get revenge at the flip of the new season in November, topping the Colonials, 87-49 in Rupp Arena.

The nationally-ranked Wildcats are coming off a season-opening loss on Tuesday to fellow blue-blood Duke, as part of the Champions Classic, in a game where Kentucky never led by more than one point.  After snagging a 48-47 edge with 16 and a half minutes remaining, the Blue Devils embarked on a 22-6 run, collecting a lead that they would never relinquish.

There were decidedly positive notes for the Wildcats, with John Calipari’s new slew of transfers offering an experienced edge of competitiveness that was not necessarily present during the 2020-21 season.  Former West Virginia big man Oscar Tshiebwe paved the way, hauling down a monster 17-point, 20-rebound double-double, whereas former Georgia guard Sahvir Wheeler also logged a double-double of 16 points and 10 assists.

Robert Morris, meanwhile, is coming off an optimistic loss that should bode well for the Colonials after a sluggish 4-15 campaign in 2020-21, having fallen to a potential NCAA Tournament team in Central Florida on Wednesday evening.  Falling 69-59 to the Knights, Robert Morris – despite falling behind by as much as 19 at one point in the second half – was able to keep the game within a respectable margin, having cut a 17-point halftime lead down to nine within the first five minutes of the second stanza.

The catalysts for the Colonials’ aspiring performance against UCF were a trio of double-digit scorers, with St. John’s graduate transfer Rasheem Dunn (12 points) and sophomore Enoch Cheeks (12 points and 10 assists) spearheading the operations.  Kahliel Spear added 10 points, and all three combined for a 15-16 clip from the charity stripe – the only three players to reach the line – as well as hauling down a combined 20 boards, helping lead an effort that saw the Colonials outrebound UCF, 44-34.

Preliminary single-game stats obviously do not tell much during the first week of the season, but Kentucky’s battle with Duke and the Colonials’ bout against UCF both indicate some similar stats – but also a key difference that, on paper, gives the Wildcats a decisive edge.  Both teams struggled defensively inside, surrendering clips worse than 55.0% – but both were impressive in containing outside shooting, with Robert Morris holding UCF to 25.0%, whereas Kentucky kept Duke to a woeful 7.7% mark.

Where the most substantial difference comes is on the offensive end, where the Colonials struggled mightily with a pair of sub-200 national marks inside and outside the arc.  Kentucky, likewise, struggled inside, actually shooting worse against Duke (37.3%) than Robert Morris did against UCF (42.1%) – but the Wildcats were electric from outside, knocking down 38.9% (7-18) of their three-pointers, while the Colonials shot just 17.4% (4-23).

Obviously, UCF and Duke are different beasts, although both maintained similar defensive efficiencies last season, per KenPom – but there is also the difference in talent between Kentucky and Robert Morris.  The Colonials are looking for their first non-conference win over a Div. I foe since December 17th, 2019 – and, despite the optimistic showing against UCF, they did still lose by double-digits.  Taking on a Kentucky team that went 1-6 in non-conference play last year – and has not defeated a non-SEC foe since November 25th, 2020 – and has something to prove does not necessarily bode well for Robert Morris.

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The Colonials have the proven experience in its backcourt to offensively threaten the Wildcats; Bryant transfer Michael Green III scored double-digits against Syracuse and Rutgers in the past two seasons in a pair of losses decided by a single possession, while Dunn logged double-digits on numerous occasions during his two-year stint at St. John’s.  Where Robert Morris may ultimately struggle, however, is inside, with much of the Colonials’ success pending on how Spear is able to counteract Tshiebwe.

Prediction: Kentucky 85, Robert Morris 65