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GAMEDAY: Conference play begins in Oxford

It's here! For better or for worse (and only the games themselves will determine that), the Southeastern Conference slate is set to begin, with Kentucky on the road for the opener at 8:30 pm ET at C.M. 'Tad' Smith Coliseumin Oxford, Miss.

Kentucky (11-3, 0-0) took care of a pesky but overmatched Houston Cougars last time out, but failed to show the sort of consistency it will need to have each and every game in the SEC. The players say the right things about focus and the stakes, but only time will tell if they listen to Tubby Smith when he says to stop dilly-dallying and win the game.

Ole Miss relies heavily on its lone post star, Dwayne Curtis, who missed the first of two games UK won last season, a 40-point rout at Rupp Arena. An SEC tournament game was closer, but still a clear UK victory. Senior starter Bam Doyne has jumped out of the gate this season, not only scoring 18 a game, but grabbing over 6 boards per outing while only 6'4". Rebounding, something the Cats did a better job of against Houston than in almost any other game this year, will be key tonight.

Traditionally, Kentuck has owned the Rebels, posting a 93-11 all-time mark against them, including a 24-8 all-time record on Ole Miss' home floor, dating to 1966. This year's Rebels are led by a new coach, Andy Kennedy, who comes from Cincinnati, where he was the interim coach after the dismissal of Bob Huggins.

This stacks up as a game UK should be able to control, but it will be important for Morris to avoid getting into a shoving match with Curtis down low. Quick whistles could mean lots more Woo, and this sort of game is exactly the type where a Jared Carter would have come in very handy. Oh well.

Strength coach Scott Holsopple has been instilling a "chip on shoulder" mentality with the kids, something I think is extremely good news. Smith's teams tend to play better when feeling slighted, or underdogs. And with Kentucky hoping for a return to the national rankings, and given that three or four of the teams ranked 15-25 lost already this week, a good win -- and the continuation of a current 7-game winning streak -- might be enough.

What to look for:
* Youth Gone Wild: This year's UK team is much better offensively on paper than several recent teams. While it hasn't played out entirely, freshmen Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks have come along nicely, with Jasper in particular looking more and more comfortable on the court. If such development continues, the Cats could be more likely to hit the high 70s in points a game rather than the low 70s, no small point over the course of the rest of the season.

* Ministers of Defense: Despite increased offensive ability, it's clear that for a Tubby team to win, it will be defense that carries the day. With the exception of the UMass game, and portions of the Houston game, the defense for this bunch has been increasingly solid. Those "portions" are what worry folks, because such lost intensity can be crippling against a Florida or Bama.

* Perry Demanding: Senior Bobby Perry has got to play better. He has got to make shots. He has got to rebound the ball. Tubby knows it; heck, said as much. Bobby knows it. Fans know it. If this team has any aspirations beyond a 'solid' season, either Perry needs to step it up, or he needs tog et out of the way.

Probable starting lineups

SG: Ramel Bradley, Jr., Brooklyn, NY (13.3 ppg)
3G: Joe Crawford, Jr., Detroit, MI (12.4 ppg)
PG: Derrick Jasper, Fr., Paso Robles, CA (3.6 apg*)
SF: Bobby Perry, Sr., Durham, NC (7.1 ppg)
C: Randolph Morris, Jr., Atlanta, GA (16.9 ppg)

Bench rotation:
F Perry Stevenson, F Sheray Thomas, F Ramon Harris, C Lukasz Obrzut, G Jodie Meeks, G Michael Porter

Ole Miss
PG: Todd Abernethy, 6'1", Sr. (9.3 ppg, 5.2 apg)
SG: Clarence Sanders, 6'1", Sr. (15.7 ppg)
3G: Bam Doyne, 6'4", Sr. (18.1 ppg, 3rd SEC)
C: Dwayne Curtis, 6'8", Jr. (12.7, 9.7 rpg)
F: Kenny Williams, 6'8", Jr. (7.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

Bench rotation:
Jermey Parnell (F/C), Eniel Polynice (G), Xavier Hansbro (F), Trey Hampton (F), Justin Cerasoli (G), Brian Smith (G)

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