Could Providence be just what the doctor ordered in Sunday’s 2 p.m. ET tipoff at Rupp Arena? The Friars carry a 5-0 mark with wins over Florida State and Notre Dame into their game Friday against Yale before heading to Lexington.
"Watching them on tape, (they are) really doing a heck of a job isolating guys and putting guys in the best position to score," Calipari said of the Friars, who have averaged 74.6 points while holding opponents to 56.8 per game. "They're playing extremely hard defensively in both man and zone. I would imagine they're going to come out and pressure us in man-to-man and press a little bit based on the last game... Last year, they played us all zone."
Providence defeated Notre Dame 75-74 last Sunday in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic in a game in which senior forward LaDontae Hinton scored a career-high 38 points. The 6-foot-6 Hinton hit 14 of 19 shots from the field, including a 4-for-8 night from beyond the arc. He has scored 21 or more points in four of the Friars' five games this season.
The Friars also have another good frontcourt scoring option in 6-9 junior forward Tyler Harris, who is averaging 13.6 points per game. He had a season-high 23 in the season-opener against Albany, incluidng a 3-for-4 night from long range.
A frontcourt that can stretch the shot-blocking UK defense has often been cited as the type of team that could pose a challenge to the Cats. However, the Friars could be without sophomore guard Kris Dunn (9 ppg), who suffered an ankle injury in the win over Notre Dame.
Kentucky faced Providence last season at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Wildcats came away with a 79-65 win, but it was a four-point game at the half, and one that gave Calipari even more respect for the Friars' coach.
"Ed Cooley is one of those coaches, in my opinion, a great coach that no one knows about yet," the UK boss said. "What he did at Fairfield, what he’s doing at Providence – he can run for mayor up there. They love him. He’s the kind of coach that I respect. He does it at tough places, and stuff happens, and he still does it. I don’t need to see the white-shoe guys. I need to see a guy like him that’s down in the trenches, does his thing, and does it right. I’ll tell you what, I think he’s as good as they get."
Will that leadership be enough to give Calipari an opportunity to see his team tested deep into the second half for the first time this season?
"What we need is just a hand-to -hand kind of game where a team is not afraid of us, that they make plays and continue to make them throughout," he said.
That type of game would also give Calipari an opportunity to see what his "finishing five" lineup may look like. To date, he's priarily stuck with the two-platoon system, bringing five fresh players in at one time unless there is foul trouble or another issue.
He noted Friday that he liked how the combination of Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Devin Booker, "and the two bigs" (Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl Towns) looked at times in Tuesday's 92-44 win over UT Arlington.