As the two winningest programs in college basketball history with a combined 31 Final Four appearances between them, Kansas and Kentucky are routinely in the national championship discussion every year, but only one of them has looked the part in the early going. The third-ranked Jayhawks hope to build on an impressive season-opening victory and halt their struggles at the State Farms Champions Classic on Tuesday when they meet the fourth-ranked Wildcats in Chicago.
Kansas made its first nine field-goal attempts and shot 60 percent in Friday’s 92-56 home rout of Tennessee State in its only tune-up for the only currently ranked foe during the non-conference portion of its schedule. “(Facing Kentucky) early in the season; it’s a huge game. Everybody’s watching it, but at the same time it’s just another game to test us and see how we are early in the season, but it’s definitely a big game,” guard Devonte’ Graham told reporters Friday. The Wildcats have probably been tested a bit more than they would have cared for in their two victories thus far, as they were forced to overcome a 12-point second-half deficit en route to a 10-point triumph Friday against Utah Valley before holding off a late charge from Vermont for a 73-69 win Sunday. “You cannot play Popcorn State and learn anything. You got to play good teams,” said coach John Calipari after Sunday’s nail-biter.
TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT KENTUCKY (2-0): The Wildcats have 12 players listed as freshmen or sophomores, including Hamidou Diallo (team-high 17 points per game), who is one of Calipari’s eight freshmen and has scored at least 16 points in both games. Backcourt mate and fellow first-year player Quade Green poured in 15 points against Vermont after missing all four of shots in a four-point effort in the opener, while 6-7 classmate PJ Washington shook off a sloppy debut with 17 points and 10 rebounds against the Catamounts. Kevin Knox (11.5 points, seven rebounds and two steals per game) has gotten off to a slow start offensively thanks to his 23.1 field-goal percentage, but the 6-9 rookie forward ranks second on the team in rebounds and steals.
ABOUT KANSAS (1-0): Lagerald Vick - a player coach Bill Self dubbed last week as “our best all-around player as of right now” - matched his career high with 23 points to lead six Jayhawks in double figures, while surprise starter Marcus Garrett tallied 10 points and 10 rebounds in his college debut. The 6-5 freshman guard drew the surprise start as a result of Malik Newman losing his spot in the lineup after the Mississippi State transfer had a poor practice earlier in the week, according to Self. Graham - the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year - took an unexpected back seat in the scoring column but posted his first career double-double anyway, finishing with 10 points and a career-high 12 assists to go along with seven rebounds and three blocks.
1. Self (417-88) is one win from tying Roy Williams (418-101) for second on the all-time win list for Kansas coaches. Phog Allen (590-219) sits atop the list.
2. Kentucky leads the all-time series 22-8 but has dropped each of the last two meetings.
3. Of the four teams - Duke (4-2), Kentucky (4-2) and Michigan State (3-3) among them - the Jayhawks (2-4) are the only one with a losing record in the six-year history of this event.
PREDICTION: Kansas 86, Kentucky 74