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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Getting Ready For Kansas

Bill Self and John Calipari meet for the first time since the 2008 NCAA Tournament championship game.
Bill Self and John Calipari meet for the first time since the 2008 NCAA Tournament championship game.

Tomorrow is the Kentucky Wildcats' first test of the season -- at a neutral court (Madison Square Garden in New York City) versus fellow blueblood, the Kansas Jayhawks.  Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, this will be a test.

So what does Kansas look like this season?  Well, the first thing you need to know is that they lost a ton of talent from last season. Brady Morningstar, Mario Little and Tyrel Reed were all lost to graduation.  Of these, two were starters.  Of the other three starters, the Morris twins and Tyshawn Taylor, only Taylor returns. Also lost from Kansas last year were freshmen Josh Selby and Royce Woolridge, Selby to the NBA Draft and Woolridge to Washington St. via transfer.

Kansas this year has a number of good players, but is by no means "loaded" in any sense of the word.  They have a total of two Rivals 5-star high school players on the team, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford, junior starters this year, along with juniors Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey.  Senior Tyshawn Taylor rounds out the starting lineup, at least last game.

There are really no meaningful stats to analyze yet this season, but Kansas handled a Towson State team just as easily as Kentucky handled the roughly comparable Marist.  One thing that does show up as a difference is that Kansas has a slightly more mature lineup, starting no true freshmen.

The major scoring threats will be Releford and Taylor on the wing and Robinson on the inside.  Johnson is the point guard who dished out 8 dimes against Towson St., and Loyola Marymount  transfer Kevin Young is a proven scorer both on the wing and slashing to the basket.

Like Kentucky, Kansas does not have a tremendous amount of bulk, nor do they have a lot of proven depth.  Their players are not as interchangeable as the Wildcats, but they are skilled, well coached, and experienced.

Interesting matchups:

  • Thomas Robinson -- I suspect Terrence Jones will start out on him.  That will be an interesting test of talent.
  • Tyshawn Taylor -- Either Darius Miller or Doron Lamb to start out, but don't be surprised to see Michael Kidd-Gilchrist guarding him quite a bit.
  • Travis Releford -- Miller to start, but again, MKG will probably be ready to guard him some as well.
  • Jeff Withey -- Nice matchup with Anthony Davis.  Withey's bigger but less talented, so this will be a great test of how Davis handles a stronger player.
  • Elijah Johnson -- obviously Marquis Teague will be guarding him, but also Lamb.  He'll be a nice matchup for either guy.

This game is a really good early-season test for Kentucky, and we'll learn a lot about this Wildcat team at every position.  I look for this to be close and hard-fought all the way through.  The Jayhawks have an experience advantage, and Kentucky is more talented and just as athletic.  Both teams present matchup problems for the other on both sides of the ball.

We'll have more later.