After a heartbreaking loss to Kansas, Kentucky has a second chance to pick up a top-10 victory early in the season in Tuesday’s home matchup with Miami. Kentucky has certainly picked a good time to join the modern era. Coming off a 118-point outing in a win over Marshall, the Wildcats are shooting more 3-pointers that any UK team since the early years of the Rick Pitino era, and are scoring at a rate not seen in many years — 94.3 points per game in the season’s first 6 games.

But Tuesday’s showdown with Miami presents a matchup with a No. 10 ranked squad that has pretty much the same strengths.

The Hurricanes, who reached the Final Four last season, are averaging 89.0 points per game, are shooting over 52% overall and have knocked down 46% of their 3-pointers. Not only are both teams prolific, but both use short benches, and neither has much size inside. Kentucky was bothered by massive Kansas big man Hunter Dickinson with only 6-9 forward Tre Mitchell resembling a true post player. Not an issue against Miami, whose 2 starting inside players are both just 6-7.

Miami is 5-0, albeit without a prior matchup with a ranked foe. The Hurricanes are coming off wins over Georgia and Kansas State, a foe who is entirely too familiar to Kentucky, having dealt the Wildcats NCAA Tournament losses in 2018 and 2023. Miami coach Jim Larranaga has been at the school since 2011, making him only 2 years shy of Calipari in length of tenure. The Hurricanes reached the NCAA Elite Eight in 2022 and the Final Four in 2023.

Four-fifths of Miami’s starting lineup returns from that Final Four team, too, led by shooting guard Wooga Poplar. Poplar averaged 8.4 points per game a year ago, but came into his own late in the season and has built on that run with a red-hot start to 2023-24, averaging 18 points per game. He’s shooting a mind-blowing 59% shooting from 3-point range. Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland at power forward is the only new face, but he’s averaging 16.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, while also connecting on exactly half of his 3-point tries.

At 6-7, big man Norchad Omier is undersized, but effective. Omier is posting 15.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Unlike most big men, he’s also possessed of a solid shooting touch — 83% at the foul line and 3-for-10 from long range on the season. Point guard Nijel Pack and combo guard Bensley Joseph are also solid returnees. It’s early, obviously, but all 5 Miami starters average at least 11.8 points per game. Miami does have a short bench, with only 7 players averaging 10+ minutes, and reserve guard AJ Casey being their top bench scorer at just 3.2 points per game.

If the Cats can get the Canes in foul trouble, that could be a deciding factor. Poplar played just 26 minutes against Kansas State in part because he had 4 fouls. Omier was limited to 28 minutes in an 11-point win over Georgia because he had 4 fouls.

Kentucky has been similarly limited in terms of bench depth but might get the first appearance of injured big man Aaron Bradshaw. Bradshaw recently resumed practicing, and he does seem likely to see minutes soon, although breaking him in against the nation’s No. 10 ranked squad might not be ideal. Fellow big man Zvonimir Ivisic is still awaiting NCAA clearance, and Ugonna Onyenso is probably healthy enough to play.

Highly-regarded DJ Wagner scored 28 and 22 points in Kentucky’s 2 most recent blowout win, a nice bounce-back after contributing just 4 on 1-of-12 shooting against Kansas. A big effort from wing Justin Edwards would also likely place UK in better position than against the Jayhawks.

Reserve guards Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard continue to shine for the Wildcats. Six games into their careers, each has a double-digit scoring average, and each has been hot from the perimeter. Sheppard is shooting 67% from 3-point range, with Dillingham at 50%. Dillingham leads the Wildcats in assists, with 5.2 per game, and Sheppard leads the squad in steals, with 3.2 per game.

A prediction …

The Wildcats will enjoy having a size advantage for once, even if Bradshaw sits or plays minimal minutes. Kentucky has to defend Miami’s shooters — the Canes lead the ACC in FG% at 52.4 and 3-point FG% at 45.8. Those are 2 key reasons Miami also leads the ACC in scoring at 89.0 points per game. This Canes team is a bit different from last year’s Final Four team, but Miami went just 5-4 when they allowed 80 points last season.

Defensively, the Hurricanes are holding opponents to 26.8% shooting from deep. Kentucky will challenge that, not only in volume but in accuracy. The Cats already have shot 174 3-pointers — 2nd in the SEC —  and have made a league-high 74 of them (42.5%).

Additionally, Kentucky has done a remarkably good job avoiding turnovers.

Kentucky might end up leaning on Dillingham and Sheppard again, but against a foe without much height or depth, the thought is that the Wildcats will hit enough shots to earn a key early-season victory.

Kentucky 84, Miami 81.