That’s the amount of time Wichita State’s coaches have determined the Shockers have to retreat on defense to effectively deal with Kentucky’s transition-minded speedsters in Sunday’s second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The message was ingrained soon after Kentucky, the No. 2 seed in the South Regional, defeated Northern Kentucky 79-70 on Friday night to set up the second matchup of 30-win teams on the opening weekend in tournament history.
“We talked about it last night after the game, this morning in film and all day during the hour and 30 minutes we got on the court,” WSU freshman Austin Reaves said Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “It was emphasized the whole time.
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“They’re a really athletic team, they get out in transition really well and can finish around the rim most of all.”
Most times, the Shockers wouldn’t hesitate to plunge into a game of fast breaks and running and gunning. Despite scoring just 64 points – its lowest total in 12 games – in a six-point, first-round victory over Dayton on Friday, WSU (31-4) still averages 81.5. It’s the most prolific offensive team under coach Gregg Marshall.
But Kentucky (30-5) is a different beast.
The Wildcats, led by high-scoring freshmen Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, average 85.7 points. Monk, from Lepanto, Ark., leads Kentucky at 20.2 points while Fox, a Houston native, averages 16.2.
“Fox is faster than a fox,” WSU junior Shaq Morris said. “He’s fast, Monk is fast and they’re all really quick and can create their own shots, so they’re dangerous in transition.
“If they can get down the court and get in the corner or pull up, that’s something we wouldn’t want.”
Kentucky has always wanted to run under coach John Calipari, and done it well. But this year’s Wildcat team qualifies as his fastest statistically.
Kentucky’s average possession time of 15.1 seconds was the 13th-fastest in NCAA Division I heading into Friday’s game and second among power-five conference teams behind UCLA. According to statistics compiled by Synergy Sports, the Wildcats entered the tournament averaging 19.5 points in transition, third-best in the country.
“We’ve got to get two or three guys back right away when we get a shot up and try to slow them down a little bit,” WSU junior Rauno Nurger said. “We’ve seen on film they jump the ball and try to double team. Limiting our turnovers will be a big key for us.”
Kentucky’s goal in transition is to get all players involved. The same goes for half-court sets, although it’s clear what the Wildcats prefer.
“It’s pretty hard to guard us anyway,” Monk said. “But just with all of us producing, it’s going to be hard.”
It may all go back to that amount of time the Shockers figure they have to set up on defense. If Kentucky is running off the majority of the shot clock in a half-court set, WSU’s first step will be achieved.
“That’s one of our major keys to the game,” Morris said. “As soon as we take a shot, we’ve got to get a couple guards back as deep as their deepest and try to stop the ball.
“After that, within four seconds, we’ve got to get everybody back to defend the goal.”