JACKSONVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Scott Padgett is one of the most insightful, interesting, funny and analytical University of Kentucky basketball players I’ve known in nearly four decades of writing about the Wildcats.
He can talk history, strategy, personalities, talent, motivation, the works. Padgett can give you two hours on why his 1998 UK team won the national championship as well as 90 minutes on what it takes to succeed in the NBA or mid-major college basketball.
But for this question, The Question for Kentucky basketball fans, I started my conversation with Padgett by limiting him to a one-word answer.
Should Kentucky be concerned by this Wofford team that the Wildcats will pay Saturday at 2:40 p.m. in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena?
“Yes,” Padgett said.
There was no hesitation and only a pinch of doubt in Padgett’s response.
“Yes,” Padgett said. “I would be concerned.
“Now, let me say that if Kentucky comes out and respects Wofford as a team, takes it seriously and doesn’t look at their name and think they’re some mid-major they’re just going to roll, Kentucky should win the game. If they treat it the way the way coach (John) Calipari will tell them to treat it, they’ll be fine.
“But if they just show up, this isn’t some team they’re just going to roll. They’ve prepared and scheduled for this opportunity for several years. Wofford is a damn good team.”
I trust Padgett’s judgment on basketball. Always have, from his playing days at Kentucky from 1994-through-1999. Nobody is more qualified to analyze this Wofford-Kentucky game than Padgett.
As a former UK star who served on the Wildcats’ staff during Calipari’s first season, Padgett follows Kentucky with enthusiasm. When I talked to him Friday, Padgett was as curious about the condition of PJ Washington’s injured left foot as anybody.
But Padgett has considerable insight about Wofford. The Terriers have won 21 straight, while taking the regular-season and conference championships of the Southern Conference.
Two of the 21 victories were against Samford — the team Padgett coaches.
Wofford 107, Samford 106 in overtime in Spartanburg — a game that Padgett’s team led by 3 in the final seconds of regulation until Wofford sharpshooter Fletcher Magee made a three-pointer to tie it.
Wofford 85, Samford 64 in Birmingham on Samford’s home court.
Magee made eight shots from distance in the first game and seven more in the second meeting.
Neither performance was the most impressive thing Padgett saw from the Wofford senior.
Magee played 40 of a possible 45 minutes in the first game. Padgett took his team back into Wofford’s gymnasium for practice at 10 a.m. the following morning. Padgett saw Magee leaving the floor as Samford arrived.
“Sweat was pouring off of him,” Padgett said. “He had just finished an hour-and-25 minute workout with two managers before we arrived. And he wasn’t just getting up shots. He was working hard, running off pin-down screens at full speed and shooting some of those crazy shots he takes in games.
"I immediately told my team, ‘You know why these guys are good? It's no accident.'"
The veteran members of this Wofford team beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill last season. They played the Tar Heels tough in Spartanburg this season. They beat South Carolina by 20 in Columbia.
They trailed Oklahoma, an NCAA Tournament team, by one with 10 minutes to play in Norman. They led Mississippi State by nine at halftime in Starkville.
Yes, Kansas beat Wofford by 25 but it was a five-point game with 10 minutes to play.
“The point is they’re not going to be intimidated by Kentucky, even if Kentucky gets them down by 15 points,” Padgett said. “They never get panicky. They know they can make a few shots and get right back in the game.”
Not just any shots. Three-point shots.
Wofford ranks second in the nation in three-point shooting, making nearly 42 percent of their shots from distance. According to KenPom.com, Wofford takes nearly 44 percent of its field-goal attempts from the three-point line.
Magee gets most of the publicity. As he should. Magee made seven threes in Wofford’s first-round win over Seton Hall Thursday to become the all-time leader in three-point field goals.
“But check the numbers,” Padgett said. “Percentage wise, he’s not their best three-point shooter.”
I warned you that Padgett pays attention.
Magee is 140 of 344 — 41.9 percent.
Like Magee, Nathan Hoover is a 6-foot-4 guard. Hoover has converted 80 of 172 three-pointers. That is a ridiculous 46.5 percent.
“Magee is their most outstanding player,” Padgett said. “Hoover is their best shooter. But Cam Jackson is their most valuable player.”
This is how Padgett explained it: Jackson is a tough, crafty inside player who can rebound, score on the block and pass out of double teams. Jackson is 6-8, 250 pounds. When Jackson draws extra defensive attention inside, he sometimes responds by passing the ball to open shooters on the perimeter. That is when Wofford is at its best.
“Without PJ, Reid Travis will have to guard Jackson inside,” Padgett said. “And he’s certainly capable of doing that.
“With Magee, you have to put somebody who is longer and athletic on him and chase him off the three-point line. I told my guys I’d rather have him shooting 17-foot shots than 23-foot shots. That will save you six or seven points per game.”
And on the opposite end of the floor?
“If I was Kentucky, I’d pound the ball inside the first four or five possessions,” he said. “Even without PJ, that’s where Kentucky will have an advantage and you might be able to get Jackson in foul trouble. That would be big because he’s that important to his team.”
Pomeroy’s computer formula likes Kentucky by four points. Jeff Sagarin’s formula tilts to the Wildcats by seven. In Las Vegas, the point spread started at six early Friday morning but moved to five.
“Like I said, if Kentucky comes out and plays the way they’re capable of playing they should win. They have to take Wofford serious.
“If neither Magee nor Jackson has a good game, Kentucky win easily. If one of them plays well, it will be a good game. But if Kentucky lets both of them play well, look out.”
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