You could make a good case for the SEC's two most talented teams facing off Tuesday night when the LSU Tigers host the Kentucky Wildcats.
Sitting at 11-2 and coming off a dominant win over Ole Miss, there's no question Kentucky once again has one of, if not the most talented team in the SEC. A big reason why is Tyler Ulis quietly playing like the best point guard in college basketball, especially over the last two weeks. Ulis is averaging 20.5 points, nine assists and 3.5 steals over his last two games, which were wins over Louisville and Ole Miss after the Cats suffered a bad loss to Ohio State.
Marcus Lee is having a breakout season while averaging 9.1 points, 7.2 boards and leads the Cats with 26 blocked shots this season. He's been the biggest surprise of UK's season thus far, and is a big reason why the Cats have been able to stay in the top 10 despite struggling in several areas.
Alex Poythress is another upperclassman stepping up, averaging 9.4 points and 7.4 boards per game this season to go with a team-high three double-doubles. He and Lee's emergence in the post has helped offset the struggles of freshman phenom Skal Labissiere.
Since Nov. 30, Skal is averaging just 4.4 points, 2.6 boards and 1.3 blocks per game. He was expected to be far more effective this season, even as a freshman, but it's clear he's not going to dominate college hoops in the same way many previous freshman have under John Calipari.
While the pressure of everyone's expectations of Skal seem to have weighed on him, he believes it's more of his own expectations and pressure to be great that have caused him to struggle.
"I put pressure on myself every day to be the very best that I can be, so that’s the only pressure that there was," Skal said at a Monday meeting with the media. "I put too much pressure on myself sometimes, and I think that’s one of the things I need to work on."
The good news is Skal has the right mindset in overcoming his issues and staying positive while doing whatever he can to help his team keep winning.
"Just working, working even harder than I have before," Skal said. "Coach Kenny Payne has been on me the past couple weeks. We had Camp Cal this week, and I definitely felt myself getting better."
As for LSU, they've also endured a season of underperforming and lowered expectations to this point. A 7-5 start with losses to Houston, College of Charleston, and NC State had the Tigers firmly out of the NCAA Tournament picture as conference play began, but they responded with a big performance Saturday night by rallying for a 90-82 victory at Vanderbilt.
Freshman star Ben Simmons had another dazzling performance, making 10-of-15 field goals and 16-of-19 free throws to score 36 points to go with 14 rebounds for his 10th double-double of the season this season.
Senior guard Keith Hornsby had 23 points, hitting four threes, while sophomore forward Craig Victor II chipped in 11 points, six boards and three steals. Hornsby and Victor have scored in double figures in each of the games since their return to the LSU team after missing the first seven games due to injuries.
With both Victor and Hornsby in the lineup, LSU is 4-1 this season, but beating a top-10 Kentucky team would give these Tigers the kind of validation they need after opening the season as a top-25 team.
Here is everything you'll need to watch and follow LSU host Kentucky.
Kentucky Wildcats (11-2, 1-0 in SEC) at LSU Tigers (8-5, 1-0 in SEC)
When: Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016
Location: Pete Maravich Assembly Centner in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Game Time: 9 p.m. ET
Online Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: UK Radio Network (Tom Leach, Mike Pratt)
Odds: Kentucky is a 5-point favorite, per Vegas Insider.
Series: Kentucky leads the all-time series against LSU by a s 86-25 margin.
Recent Streaks: UK has won eight of nine in the series dating back to John Calipari's first season in 2009-10.
Head Coaches vs School: John Calipari is 8-1 vs OM, while Johnny Jones is 1-4 vs UK.
Projected LSU Starters
#4 G - Keith Hornsby, 6-4, 208 lbs
#55 G - Tim Quarterman, 6-6, 190 lbs
#4 G - Antonio Blakeney, 6-3, 218 lbs
#25 F - Ben Simmons, 6-10, 240 lbs
#32 F - Craig Victor II, 6-9, 235 lbs
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs
#22 F - Alex Poythress, 6-8, 230 lbs
#00 F - Marcus Lee, 6-9, 224 lbs