The Kentucky Wildcats kick off the 2009 Cancun Classic in Lexington, KY tomorrow night, as they face the Sam Houston State Bearkats of the Southland Conference.
Last season, the Bearkats finished with a flurry, winning 12 of their final 15 regular season games, before being upset in the first round of the Southland Conference Tournament. They return an experienced group with all four of their guards from last season and were picked to finish as Southland Co-Champs along with Stephen F. Austin and Nicholls.
Head Coach Bob Marlin is in his 12th season at SHS and is gunning for his sixth strait winning season at the helm. He has led them to more victories than any other Southland school during his 11+ years and is also one of only two coaches in Southland Conference history to record more than 200 victories (202-123).
The Bearkats are 2-0 on the young season, with wins over Le Tourneau (is that a French soccer team?) and Texas Collage (who?), and Marlin’s squad is led by the senior backcourt duo of Corey Allmond, the shooter, and Ashton Mitchell, the facilatator, both Preseason First-Team All-Southland selections. They are both small guards, Allmond at 6-1 and Mitchell at 5-11, but they compliment each other well on the court.
Allmond led the team in scoring a year ago, with 15.3 points-per-game, and does most of his damage from distance, 227 of his 354 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. He shot just under 44-percent from deep and connected on 99 three-pointers, which led the conference and ranked 14th nationally.
Mitchell, a three-year starter at the point for SHS, is a tremendous ball handler and ranked fifth in D-I last season with 6.9 assists per game. He was also second on the team in scoring with 12.5 points and managed to bring down four rebounds as well.
He ranks fourth in school history with 408 assists on his career.
Despite their experienced backcourt, the story during the first two games has been Gilberto Clavell, a junior college transfer out of Puerto Rico. In his first two games, the 6-6 forward has given them a much needed punch around the basket. He is leading the team in scoring with 15 points per game and is shooting nearly 67-percent from the field.
Forwards Preston Brown and Josten Crow are likely to round out the starting lineup for the ‘Kats. Although he played in every game last season, the 6-6 Brown suffered through multiple injury problems last season. This season things have not started out so well as he was already forced to miss the game against Texas College.
Crow, who stands at 6-4, has been a stat-sheet stuffer in the early-going, averaging 5.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 6 assists.
The Bearkats’ guards will compete in the Southland, but they lack depth in the frontcourt. They are going to need even better production from guys like Clavell, who will be facing the challenge of larger post players all season long, even in their own conference.
Simply put, they are small. They start five guys who stand at 6-6 or under. Kentucky only has five guys on their roster that are 6-6 or smaller in Hood and Liggins (6-6), Krebs (6-5), Wall (6-4), and Bledsoe (6-1).
Look for them to play Kentucky much like Miami (OH) did. By cloggling the lane with a zone defense. In fact, look for everyone to do this until the ‘Cats look like they know what they are doing offensively.
Sam Houston State will compete in conference, but they won’t compete on Thursday night. Unlike the Redhawks three nights ago, don’t expect the Bearkats to put a scare into the Rupp Arena faithful.