So, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, are you hyped for the Kentucky Wildcats @ Kansas Jayhawks game tonight? I sure hope so, because if you can't get up for this one, you may want to call 9-1-1. On the other hand, maybe your nearest funeral home might be better.
This is Kentucky's first real test of the season after playing three vastly overmatched teams in two exhibitions and one regular-season contest. The talent and size deficit in favor of Kentucky, not to mention the friendly confines of Rupp Arena, were all major factors. That makes for a comfortable situation.
But Madison Square Garden tonight will be far less friendly, and with all the Duke fans holding over from the first game likely to be pulling for Kansas, this game will take on much more of a road-game flavor than a neutral site. Bill Self brings in a talented and experienced basketball team, and that gives him at least one significant advantage -- he will have been able to install more of his offense and defense by now compared to John Calipari, because his starters are all returnees from last year.
Kentucky has a solid record against the Jayhawks historically, currently standing at 19-6 in favor of Kentucky. But the Jayhawks have been victorious in the last three games between the two schools, including an embarrassing 73-46 blowout back in 2006. The most recent game was in the NCAA tournament back in 2007, a game that despite the 88-76 score, was not really that competitive.
But times have changed since 2007. Two coaching changes and a complete program makeover have occurred in Lexington, and the last three years have seen Kentucky rise from the ashes of the Billy Gillispie disaster back to its rightful, historical place as a national powerhouse. Kansas, meantime, has never left the big stage, hanging around the top ten since the teams last met.
This is a redemption game for Kentucky, very similar to the 2009 game against North Carolina. Kentucky came into that particular contest having lost five in a row to the Tar Heels. The victory at Rupp Arena ended that miserable streak, and I think most UK fans would just as soon not have a streak that long develop against the Jayhawks. So tonight is not only a real test for the basketball team, but a particularly meaningful game for Big Blue history fans.
The real test for tonight will be how well this team can defend the talented Jayhawks. I am not overly concerned about offense -- this team has seemingly endless scoring options both inside and out. But defeating the Jayhawks will require a strong defensive effort that was mostly lacking in the early-season efforts of the last two Calipari-coached teams.
This game reminds me of the Connecticut Huskies game last year. The Huskies were known to be talented, but everybody figured UK would win that game. We all saw how that worked out, and this one has the potential to be the same kind of disappointment primarily because Calipari simply hasn't had time to install much of his defense yet, and the offensive execution, while brilliant at times, has been awkward and inefficient at others.
Not only that, but Kansas has the kind of players that can actually get Kentucky in some foul trouble, and that's another type of adversity that the 'Cats have not faced all year. Marquis Teague in particular is vulnerable to this, and against Marist, he managed to pick up four fouls against a far less talented opponent. That should be cause for concern among the UK braintrust.
With all that said, this is a great pre-season contest against a worthy, blue-blood opponent, and frankly, we owe Kansas one. It's time to go in there and get it.
Some preview links for your morning reading pleasure: