The UK staff thinks so.
“It’s going to be a game for the big boys,” UK assistant coach John Robic said on Monday prior to the No. 1 Wildcats’ trip to LSU. “Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin are both two really talented players that use their size to their advantage in the post offensively.
“Jordan Mickey is a premier shot-blocker. He’s averaging right around four blocks a game, maybe just a shade under. He does a good job not leaving his feet, blocking shots off the ball. They have real good size. I mean, their whole team has good size.”
Teams with the personnel or mindset to be physical against Kentucky have fared well this season. Of course, faring well and beating the Wildcats (23-0, 10-0 SEC) are two different matters.
LSU (17-6, 6-4 SEC) may prove the biggest challenge to date for John Calipari’s squad. The Tigers have the size and bulk to compete with the Cats, and they catch them at a potentially vulnerable time, coming off a quick road turnaround after winning 68-61 at Florida in an emotionally-charged atmosphere Saturday night.
If they do challenge the Cats, Mickey and Martin figure to be huge keys. The sophomore duo has combined for 23 double-doubles this season.
Mickey (6-8, 235) comes in averaging a double-double at 17 points and 11 rebounds per game. He had a 25-point, 20-rebound game on Jan. 31 against Mississippi State, putting him in elite company alongside Shaquille O’Neal as one of only eight players in LSU history to have a 20/20 game. He also leads the SEC in blocked shots at 3.7 per game and recently joined O’Neal as the only Tigers to ever reject more than 100 shots in a season.
Martin (6-10, 235), meanwhile, posts 16 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. He’s also got the ability to step out on the perimeter and hit a 3-point shot from time to time, making him a tough matchup.
Both players shoot close to 70 percent at the line for their career.
“Well, they’re basketball players," Calipari said Monday morning during the SEC coaches teleconference. "They can make jump shots, they can beat you off the dribble, they both go at the rim. Jordan is getting four or five offensive rebounds a game. He’s getting 12-13 rebounds a game. And he’s just being vicious about it. So, again, we’ve got to come out and be aggressive. You better make sure, if you turn your back or turn your head, he’s dunking on you. Both of those guys. But they both have skills to play out on the floor too, not just inside.”
“They’re great inside,” added UK point guard Andrew Harrison. “Jarell (Martin) and Jordan (Mickey), I grew up playing against those guys. It’s going to be a tough matchup for us. They play really hard and they have some pretty good guards, too. We’re going to have our hands full.”
Kentucky will counter with its own formidable front line of Karl-Anthony Towns (9.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.3 bpg) and Willie Cauley-Stein (8.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg), as well as Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and potentially Trey Lyles. The latter has missed the last three games due to illness and was listed as uncertain for the trip on Monday afternoon.
"A phenomenal player," LSU coach Johnny Jones said Monday of Towns, who has posted 34 points, 21 rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots in UK's last two games.
Backcourt play appears to be one are the Cats may be able to exploit. The Tigers’ three starting guards – Tim Quarterman, Jalyn Patterson and Keith Hornsby – have been inconsistent this season in LSU’s losses. The trio is shooting a combined 41 percent on the year, and the team has a minus-1.1 turnover margin.
The Cats own a plus-4.2 turnover margin on the season.
LSU comes in having lost two of its last three games, falling 73-67 at Mississippi State and 81-77 at home against Auburn before bouncing back with a 71-60 win over Alabama at the Maravich Assembly Center. Tuesday night's 7 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPN is the Tigers' first advance sell-out since the 2006 season.