We'll see a rare slate of January non-conference games this weekend thanks to the Big 12/SEC Challenge taking place.
These are the two winningest programs in NCAA Division I college basketball with Kentucky first at 2,194 wins and Kansas second at 2,169 victories. They've also combined for 31 Final Fours with Kentucky at 17 and Kansas at 14.
UK is on the road for the Big 12/SEC Challenge this year because they got to host Texas last year in the challenge. UK ended up playing Kansas as part of the Champions Classic, a game in which the Cats dominated throughout and suffocated the Jayhawks en route to a 72-40 win, which saw Kansas hit just 11-of-56 shots (19.6%).
This year's version of Kentucky basketball hasn't been quite as dominant as they started 13-4 and looked nothing like the Final Four contender many expected them to be. But UK has since gone a three-game winning streak and is playing their best basketball of the season.
It comes just in time as fourth-ranked Kansas has been very dangerous at times this season, but has gone a slump of their own recently. The Jayhawks are coming off a loss at No. 14 Iowa State, a game in which the Cyclones dominated the second half on their way to an 85-72 win.
KU has also endured a 74-63 loss at No. 9 West Virginia and an 86-67 loss at unranked Oklahoma State, but have yet to lose in the confines of Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Only twice in the past four seasons and have yet to fall their this season.
A big reason why is senior forward Perry Ellis has been playing at a high level for much of his Jayhawks career. Ellis is coming off back-to-back 20-point scoring efforts after scoring 26 points against Texas (1/23) and 23 at Iowa State (1/25). Ellis is averaging 19.0 points and 7.1 rebounds in Big 12 play and 16.7 points and 6.6 rebounds overall.
Junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. is third in the Big 12 in 3-point field goals made at 2.5 per game and in 3-point field goal percentage at 46.7 percent. His 14.6 scoring average is eighth in the league and has four 20-point games this season.
Junior guard Frank Mason III is scoring 13.4 points per game with a 4.8 assist average and eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.3 to go with a team-high 31 steals. Sophomore guard Devonte' Graham is scoring 10.5 points per game and is second on the team with 28 steals and is fourth in the Big 12 with a 3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Those are the four big-hitters for Kansas, which is good news since three of them are in the backcourt, where UK has suffocated foes this season. It's been taken to another level during UK's three-game win streak. Vanderbilt, Missouri and Arkansas' starting backcourts finished a combined 21-of-73 shooting for 28.8% vs the Cats.
Kentucky vs Kansas is going to be won and lost in the backcourt, and as good as both teams have been there, this could end up being a shootout just as easily as it could be a defensive struggle.
This will be the fifth meeting between Bill Self and John Calipari. Self's Kansas team won the 2008 NCAA National Championship over Calipari's Memphis team, 75-68 in overtime, in San Antonio. Calipari's team has won the last three meetings.
In 2011-12, Kentucky defeated Kansas twice: 75-65 in the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15, 2011, and 67-59 in the NCAA Championship game, April 2, 2012, in New Orleans. Last year, Kentucky won in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
Allen fieldhouse will play host to ESPN's College GameDay coverage, led by Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams with the morning show beginning at 11 a.m. and the evening edition beginning at 4 p.m. - all on ESPN.
Other games featured in the challenge include No. 9 West Virginia at Florida (ESPN, noon), No. 14 Iowa State at No. 5 Texas A&M (ESPN, 2 p.m.) and No. 1 Oklahoma at LSU (ESPN, 5 p.m.).
Kentucky Wildcats (16-4, 6-2 in SEC) at Kansas Jayhawks (15-4, 5-3 in Big 12)
When: Jan. 30, 2016
Location: Phog Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas
Game Time: 7 p.m. ET
Announcers: Dan Shulman, Bilas and reporter Shannon Spake will have the call.
Online Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: UK Radio Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt (info and affiliates)
Odds: Kanas opened as a 5-point favorite, per Vegas Insider.
Projected KU Starters
#0 G - Frank Mason III, 5-11, 185 lbs, Jr.
#4 G - Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, 175 lbs, So.
#1 G - Wayne Selden, 6-5, 230 lbs, Jr.
#34 F - Perry Ellis, 6-8, 225 lbs, Sr.
#33 F - Landen Lucas, 6-10, 240 lbs. Jr.
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs, So.
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs, Fr.
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs, Fr.
#35 F - Derek Willis, 6-9, 220 lbs, Jr.
#22 F - Alex Poythress, 6-8, 230 lbs, Sr.
My Prediction: Despite their road struggles for much of this season, Kentucky certainly 'can' win at Kansas, but only in the sense that the Jayhawks are playing pretty bad right now and UK is playing their best ball of the season. I've seen Kansas enough this year that I'm confident UK has little shot at winning there if the Jayhawks are at their best.
KU not only needs this game because of their recent skid, but badly wants revenge for last year's debacle. I do think this will be a close game that UK stays within striking distance for much of the night, but KU ultimately pulls away for the win.
Final Score: Kansas 73, Kentucky 65