It’s crazy how much things have changed over the past month. With the Wildcats’ early-season struggles coupled with a tough stretch of games against North Carolina, Louisville and Auburn away from Rupp Arena, this was shaping up to be a game Kentucky desperately needed a win just to ensure they got a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The way Kentucky was playing in December, it looked like winning away from Rupp against quality foes was going to be a major struggle, making every home game extremely important to win.
Meanwhile, Kansas was riding high atop the polls and looked like a legit Final Four contender with wins over top-10 Michigan State and Tennessee squads.
But recently, the script flipped in a big way. Now, it’s Kentucky who’s riding high and now has one of the best resumes in college hoops, scoring top-25 wins over the Tar Heels, Cardinals, Tigers, and now the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Kansas, on the other hand, has lost Udoka Azubuike for the season, and they’ve taken some bad losses since then, including a blowout loss at Iowa State, as well as a loss to a West Virginia team currently 9-10, 1-6 in Big 12 play and ranked 95th in NET.
This is still a game Kentucky needs to win, though it’s not nearly as imperative as it was a month ago. But Kansas really needs this game, almost to the point it’s a must-win to get their season back on track.
While the Jayhawks are flawed, they have gotten some nice contributions from emerging players like Marcus Garrett (17 points per game and 4 steals per game over last 3 games).
Ochai Agbaji is another under-the-radar name to watch for, as the 6-5 guard has actually been playing power forward a lot recently and averaged 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals in a four-game stretch against Baylor, Texas, TCU and Iowa State (played just 3 minutes vs. West Virginia).
Of course, the real guys to watch are Kansas’ 1-2 punch of Lagerald Vick and Dedric Lawson. Vick is one of the best shooters in America and can light up Rupp if he’s not contained.
Lawson is one of the best big men in college hoops and a National Player of the Year candidate. He’s a force in the paint and the perfect compliment to Vick on the perimeter. When those two get going, Kansas is a hard team to beat for anyone, including Kentucky.
The x-factor for Kansas will be freshman guard Quentin Grimes, one of the top recruits in the 2018 class whose shown plenty of flashes this season. However, Grimes has struggled with consistency, averaging just 5.2 points over his last five games. His best outing was a 21-point outburst in a win over No. 5 Michigan State.
This will be a matchup of the two winningest programs in college basketball, as Kansas sits at 2,264 wins, while Kentucky is maintaining the lead at 2,280.
Use this stream to keep track of all our stories on one of Kentucky’s biggest games of the 2018-19 season.