GREENSBORO, N.C. _ There are several players on the Providence basketball team who are very familiar with the University of Kentucky.
UK, the No. 6 seed in the East Region, will meet No. 11 Providence on Friday at 6:10 p.m. CT in historic Greensboro Coliseum.
Providence has former UK player Bryce Hopkins as its leading scorer and rebounder, and 16.1 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. The hype for this so-called Bryce Hopkins Revenge Game started almost as soon as the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed Sunday evening.
Hopkins played very little at Kentucky, and coach John Calipari had a tough time finding the right spot and situations for the 6-foot-7 sophomore to play in.
Hopkins went to the transfer portal and landed at Providence.
“It’s going to be an emotional game,” Hopkins said. “I want to reinforce to my teammates I’m playing for them, I’m playing to win, I’m not looking at it as a revenge game.”
There’s a good chance Hopkins will be guarding Jacob Toppin, and Toppin could end up defending Hopkins in the game as well.
“Jacob is being more of a scorer and being more aggressive,” Hopkins said. “I think I’m pretty much guarding him, so I have to keep him honest, keep him off the glass.”
Toppin is a 6-9 senior who averaged 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds a game for the Wildcats. Toppin scored 21 points in each of his last two games, and he had a double-double with 11 rebounds against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament loss.
“We know what we’re capable of when we play to our potential,” Toppin said. “We have a great mindset coming into this game, we have a great mindset coming into this game, we’re coming into this game understanding what it’s going to take to win.”
Having all players healthy would be a good start for the Wildcats having their best chance to win this round of 64 matchup. Cason Wallace has had a lower leg injury. CJ Fredrick has multiple cracked ribs. Sahvir Wheeler has been out for nine games with an ankle and another lower body injury.
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All three guards should be available for Kentucky. That should help from the aspect of depth and it should give UK some continuity in the backcourt.
Antonio Reeves has been UK’s best long-range shooting threat and is averaging 14.4 points a game and has made 74 3-point shots. Wallace is averaging 11.6 points and 4.2 assists a game.
This game will showcase two teams that have adjusted offensive efficiency ratings in the top 20 in the country on Kenpom.com. UK is No. 14 in that category, Providence in No. 16.
Kentucky is 77th in adjusted defensive efficiency and Providence is 106.
Both Kentucky and Providence have 21-11 records.
Kentucky players were universal in thinking their defense will be a key to victory over the Big East team.
“We’ve put more of an emphasis on that leading into the tournament,” UK freshman Chris Livingston said. “Defense and the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will advance in the tournament. We have to play with defensive intensity. We know when we’re at our best we can give any team in the country problems.”
Kentucky is looking for its first NCAA Tournament win since 2019. Getting that W will take communication on defense.
“In the NCAA Tournament, defense wins the game,” said Oscar Tshiebwe, who averages 16.5 points, 13.1 rebounds a game, the best in the country. “Communication is the key. We’ve got to stay together. When we communicate we give teams problems. When we’re quiet, if you switch and don’t let me know, we end up guarding one person with two people or something.
“Now, everybody is focusing. We can’t wait to play, this is a dream come true.”
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