There is one person in America who has followed both Kentucky and Stony Brook closely all season.
“Myself and my wife might be the only two people,” Dave Boff said.
Boff coached Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe at Roselle Catholic (N.J.) last year, and the three-time state champion also used to draw up plays for Stony Brook star Jameel Warney.
This winter, he followed his former players closely, and the NCAA tournament selection committee happened to pit Briscoe and Warney against one another in the first round on Thursday in Des Moines (9:40 p.m. ET, CBS).
“I wish they were playing other people,” Boff told SEC Country, “but it is what it is.”
We had the coach outline the game plan for each team. Here are his takeaways:
Stony Brook likely doesn’t have the personnel to contain Kentucky’s three-guard lineup.
When asked to pick his poison — Tyler Ulis or Jamal Murray — Boff simply laughed.
“That’s like asking which way do you wanna get killed,” Boff said. “Oh, man. Stony Brook’s second-best player is a kid named Carson Puriefoy (15.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals per game), who’s their point guard. So the hope, I’m sure, from Stony Brook is that Puriefoy can neutralize Ulis a little bit, or at least play him tough. And then they’ll probably guard Jamal with one of their bigger small-forward types to try to give him some problem with size.
“They have a kid named Ahmad Walker (10.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.0 steals per game) who’s a very good defensive player, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they put Walker on Murray and just try to bother him with some 6-7 size. That kid’s probably the best athlete in the America East.”
Solving the Ulis-Murray equation is tough enough. But then there’s Briscoe, who — if given a mismatch — will force his way to the basket.
“If you’re doing straight-up matchups, Walker would probably go with Isaiah, but then who guards Murray?” Boff said. “I think the problem for Stony Brook is, who’s the third guy to match up with the Kentucky guards? They need that third guy.”
Jameel Warney will make or break the Seawolves
The Stony Brook forward’s credentials are intimidating: Three-time America East Player of the Year; three-time conference defensive player of the year; last season’s national leader in double doubles and total rebounding. The list goes on.
Warney, a senior, scored a career-high 43 points to beat Vermont in the America East tournament championship on Saturday for his first-ever NCAA berth. He’s averaging 19.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game this season.
Now, Kentucky must find a way to slow down the 22-year-old who many consider to be one of the best mid-major players in the history of college basketball.
“He’ll be one of the stronger low-post guys that they’ve seen,” Boff said.
The Wildcats’ likeliest matchups for Warney — Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Isaac Humphries — will probably wake up with bruises on Friday morning.
“Anything he’s gonna do, it’s gonna be power,” Boff said. “He’s a power, back-to-the-basket guy. You will not see a whole lot of fading away from him or anything like that. He’s gonna catch it low. He scores with his positioning as much as he does with any particular move. The announcers, when they’re doing his games, people are always talking about how his hands and feet are maybe the best of any big man in the country. He’s gonna catch everything and he’s gonna make power plays at the rim.”
“This isn’t rocket science”
You know how these coaches feel about overthinking during games: It’s trouble. The same applies to prognostication, apparently.
Boff simply sees a pair of disrespected teams with clear paths to victory.
“I think really what it’s gonna come down to — and this isn’t rocket science here — is which of the team’s strengths is gonna be able to outweigh the other team’s,” Boff said. “Kentucky is coming into the game with Tyler, Isaiah and Murray. Their backcourt has clearly been their strength this year. And then for Stony Brook, they probably have one of the best low-post scorers in the country — at any level. When you look at Jameel’s numbers, Stony Brook is gonna pound the ball in the post. Whichever team’s strength plays well is gonna win the game.”
The coach refused to pick a winner, but acknowledged that Kentucky has the edge.
“Historically, in the NCAA tournament, guard play usually carries the day, at least recently,” Boff said. “So I think that Kentucky probably has the advantage because they do have multiple guards that can make plays. Stony Brook is just gonna have to figure out a way to stop those three guards, and then hopefully Jameel can do his thing in the post.”