We're finally here. Six months after Midnight Madness left us thinking how March might be, we're faced with a very different scenario than we might have imagined.
But that's for another time. Tonight, we play the actual game, we find out what this team is made of (or not made of).
Villanova, from the Big East, presents another different challenge for this group of Kentucky players, with a strong forward-center in Curtis Sumpter and a dynamic scoring point in Scottie Reynolds. Both are dangerous offensive players, and both could be the difference in a win or loss for UK.
But Kentucky, despite all our complaints, worries and strange encounters, is not punchless. Center Randolph Morris played his best game of the season his last time out -- career highs with 29 points and 15 rebounds -- and he could be auditioning for pro scouts. Little else has seemed to motivate him, but perhaps the finality of the season will.
This game will likely be another referendum on Tubby Smith's coaching techniques, on his substitution patterns and on who performs in the clutch. Fair or not, coaching is one big factor between teams that finish strong (Tennessee) and ones that do not (Notre Dame ... again!).
Senior Bobby Perry seemed reinvigorated until last Friday's loss to Mississippi State, and the Cats (the good kind) really need another scoring threat.
But, as with almost all the big games from February on, this one is just another case of "Who will show up?" I'd love to have confidence, but at this stage, either Kentucky shows up or they don't; Lucky shirts, crossed fingers and the eyes of God seemingly be damned.
What to look for:
* Pressurized. Tubby Smith has been under the microscope all year, but never so muhc as the last two weeks. A pair of statements from AD Mitch Barnhardt only added fuel to the fire, intentionally or not, and how Smith and his guys react to the added pressure will be key.
* Return of the Big Cat?. The enigmatic Randolph Morris could be playing the last few games of his college career, or simply setting up a nice ending to his junior season, with another year of growing and scoring to come. Morris cannot be drafted, but he can be signed as a free agent in the offseason, if he so chooses. Is he auditioning for scouts?
* Swan song. It's hard to say for sure what a loss tonight would mean for the Kentucky program. Much ink has been spilled here and everywhere on Tubby's future, though little has any real weight. One thing is sure, though, and that's that a bad loss (20 points, looking lost and finished, etc.) won't help matters much. It would be nice to postpone a potentially brutal offseason for another week at least.
Probable starting lineupsKentucky
PG: Derrick Jasper (6'6"/213 Fr.) 4.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg
SG: Ramel Bradley (6'3"/175 Jr.) 14.1 ppg, *3.7 apg, 3.8 rpg
3G: Joe Crawford (6'5"/211 Jr.) 14.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg
C: Randolph Morris (6'11"/255 Jr.) 15.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg
SF: Bobby Perry (6'9"/215 Sr.) 8.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg
F Perry Stevenson, F Sheray Thomas, F Ramon Harris, C Lukasz Obrzut, G Jodie Meeks, G Michael Porter
PG: Scottie Reynolds (6'3"/200 Fr.) 14.5 ppg
SG: Mike Nardi (6'4"/175 So.) 12.0 ppg
F: Dante Cunningham (6'3"/200 Sr.) 8.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg
C: Curtis Sumpter (6'8"/240 Jr.) 17.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg
F: Will Sheridan (6'4"/225 So.) 5.3 ppg
Dwayne Anderson (F), Reggie Redding (G), Bilal Benn (F/C), Shane Clark (G)