If you haven’t heard by now, Hofstra is playing Kentucky this weekend.
The long-awaited contest, which was originally intended to be the first sporting event played in the renovated Nassau Coliseum, comes instead as part of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at the Barclays Center Sunday afternoon.
With repairs still ongoing at the Coliseum, Hofstra and Kentucky will square off in the second game of a doubleheader that also features a matchup between St. John’s and LIU Brooklyn.
“You talk about college basketball, in the first three or four schools you mention, Kentucky’s going to be one of them,” head coach Joe Mihalich said Tuesday as the Pride turned their focus toward the Wildcats. “It’s a great opportunity for our guys to do something really special.”
Kentucky comes to Brooklyn just over a week after suffering their first loss of the season to UCLA, a 97-92 decision on their home court at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats took out their rage Wednesday with an 87-63 demolition of Valparaiso and now set their sights on the Pride.
Junior Rokas Gustys has taken on a leadership role in preparation for the contest. Before committing to Hofstra, Gustys competed at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia as well as in international competition as a member of the Lithuanian national team. Those paths led to opportunities to face off against future NBA draftees including Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, and D’Angelo Russell.
With those opportunities came experience that is sure to play a vital role against a Kentucky squad that sports multiple projected first round picks, including Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, and Bam Adebayo.
“I hope [my teammates] are going to believe me and trust me, what I say, what I tell them, and what experience I’m sharing,” Gustys said after Tuesday’s loss to St. Bonaventure. “I try to tell guys that hey, we’ve got to play as a team because one on one we’re not going to be able to beat them.”
Although Kentucky presents a formidable challenge to most any team, one area the Pride do hold an edge in is 3-point shooting. According to KenPom.com the Wildcats rank 253rd of 351 teams at the Division I level with a 32.2% mark from behind the arc whereas Hofstra ranks 60th with a 38.3% efficiency.
Freshman Eli Pemberton, who leads the Pride at 15.3 ppg, is sure to play a key role in the 3-point shooting attack. The Middletown, CT native has successfully knocked down half of his 46 long-range attempts this season.
Sunday will mark the first-ever meeting between Hofstra and Kentucky, and the Pride’s first contest against a ranked opponent since they took on the Wildcats’ rival, Louisville, early in the 2013-14 season.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPN, Hofstra’s first appearance on the network since 2007, and their first ever against a non-conference regular season opponent.
“We’re going to go in there and play our hearts out,” Mihalich added. “We’re going to try to win every possession we can and see what happens.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.