GAME NOTES: The top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats travel to the Keystone State on Tuesday night to face off with the eighth-seeded Robert Morris Colonials in the first round of the 2013 National Invitation Tournament.
Although Kentucky is the higher seed, Rupp Arena is being used as a site for the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament, meaning Robert Morris acts has the hosts in this matchup. The winner will advance to the second round to play either Providence or Charlotte.
Kentucky appeared to position itself nicely for an NCAA Tournament bid following a 61-57 win over Florida in the regular-season finale, but after earning a No. 2 seed and a double-bye into the SEC Tournament, it suffered a 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt to have its bubble burst. The Wildcats, the 2012 National Champions, came into this season with high expectations and disappointed with a 21-11 overall record, although they've still seen action in 22 consecutive postseasons.
Robert Morris won the Northeast Conference regular-season title outright with a 14-4 league record, but after beating Saint Francis in the opening round of the conference tourney, it was upset by fifth-seeded Mount St. Mary's in the semifinals, 69-60. Still, the Colonials enjoyed an impressive 23-10 record t this season and have advanced to the postseason for the fourth time in the last five years, making the NCAA Tournament field in 2009 and 2010 and qualifying for the CIT last season.
Kentucky won the only previous meeting between these two teams, 92-67, at Rupp Arena back in December of 1993. Kentucky has won two NIT titles (1946 and 1976) en route to a 13-6 mark in the tournament all-time. RMU is 0-1 in the NIT, as this is only its second appearance in the event.
The Wildcats came out flat in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, getting outshot from the field by Vanderbilt, 50 percent to 34.6 percent, in what turned out to be a 16-point loss. Archie Goodwin was solid in defeat with 12 points, while Kyle Wiltjer came off the bench to shoot 4-of-5 from the field for 10 points. It was a rare down performance for Kentucky, as it typically scores 73.1 ppg on greater than 47 percent from the floor while allowing less than 65 ppg at the defensive end of the court. The team hasn't been the same at either end since the loss of freshman sensation Nerlens Noel (10.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 4.4 bpg, 2.1 spg) to a torn ACL last month. Goodwin is the team's leading scorer with 14.0 ppg, while fellow freshman Alex Poythress nets 11.4 ppg and hauls in 6.2 rpg. UK boasts a trio of upperclassmen in Wiltjer (10.4 ppg), Ryan Harrow (10.1 ppg) and Julius Mays (9.4 ppg) who are all solid out on the perimeter, while Willie Cauley-Stein (8.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.1 bpg) has played admirably at forward filling in Noel's spot in the starting lineup.
Robert Morris trailed by 20 points to Mount St. Mary's in its latest outing, and while it battled back to cut the deficit to just six, a miraculous comeback simply wasn't in the cards. Although the team shot less than 35 percent from the floor, Anthony Myers-Pate was strong off the bench, shooting 6-of-7 (including 3-of-3 from 3-point range) in netting 15 points, while Lucky Jones tacked on 10 points in the losing effort. The Colonials were one of the most impressive offensive teams in the NEC this season, pouring in 71.3 ppg, with Karvel Anderson leading the way with 12.7 ppg. Lucky Jones (11.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Russell Johnson (10.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) are both strong performers down low, while Velton Jones scores 10.9 ppg with more than twice as many assists (150) as turnovers (71).
Historically, bubble teams who just miss out on the NCAA Tournament haven't played particularly well in the NIT, and after the tumultuous season Kentucky has endured, don't be surprised if it checks out early in this tournament. Still, a sleepwalking Wildcats squad is still good enough to dismiss Robert Morris in this first-round matchup.
Game Date and Time