Kentucky returns two starters (sophomore forward Terrence Jones and sophomore guard Doron Lamb) off last season's team, which went 29-9 and advanced to the Final Four. The Wildcats, who boast Scout.com's No. 1 recruiting class of 2011, are coming off a 108-58 season-opening victory over Marist on Friday at home. Freshman sensation Anthony Davis led UK with 23 points, while freshman guard Marquis Teague scored 16 with Lamb and freshman guard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist adding 15 points each.
Jones, who was named to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 List, was the 2011 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and SEC Newcomer of the Year. Lamb, meanwhile, was selected to the SEC All-Freshman Team and also named Yahoo! Sports' National Sixth Man of the Year.
But the best of them all could be the 6-10 Davis. With 23 points and 10 rebounds against Marist, Davis (he also posted five blocks and three assists with eight dunks) joined Jones (2010) and Sam Bowie (1979) as the only freshmen in Kentucky history with 20-10 games in their debuts.
Other players in the mix for the Wildcats are senior guard Darius Miller (eight points, five assists, two blocks and two steals against Marist), freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer (14 points) and senior forward Eloy Vargas (five points, eight rebounds).
John Calipari is in his third season as Kentucky coach with a 65-12 record, and in his 20th season overall as head coach with a 468-150 mark.
COACH CAL ONCE A JAYHAWK
Before Calipari made a national name in basketball circles, he was an assistant coach at KU under Ted Owens and Larry Brown from 1982-85 after graduating from Clarion State College in Clarion, Pa., with a degree in business marketing. He was the starting point guard for the Clarion State basketball team in the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons, leading the team in assists and free-throw percentage.
Calipari served as the KU Junior Varsity coach in 1984-85 where he gained a reputation as an animated coach who mimicked Brown's mannerisms on the sidelines. He recalled coaching the likes of Chad Wintz and Jeff Johnson on his JV team on April 6, 2008, the day before his then-Memphis team played KU in the national championship game at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
"I loved it," he said. "I get calls from those guys. I can remember the first practice was four hours and Larry Brown said, ‘You can't practice the JV four hours, are you crazy? They're JV's. You practice an hour and a half, two hours and stop.' I had fun. We traveled and went to play junior colleges. You had your own team, (I) tried stuff. Most of it didn't work, but had fun doing it. They were great bunch of guys and some of them wound up playing on the varsity."
"That will be a big-time challenge," KU coach Bill Self said of Kentucky. "They're scary, scary athletic. They have real guys at every position and have some depth and they're talented. I think it will be a great game. They'll be a lot of hard-rocking athletes on both sides that will be getting after it. It will be fun to watch and give us a true indicator of where we're at.
"They'll guard and play hard, and we'll have to bring it," Self added.
Self said some big keys will be transition defense, handling UK's pressure, and rebounding.
"I think the biggest thing is transition defense has to be great," Self said. "We have to handle pressure; they're going to press. We have to attack pressure and score behind their pressure."
Kentucky is loaded with star power. Draftexpress.com projects Davis as the No. 1 pick in its 2012 NBA mock draft, with Kidd-Gilchrist at No. 8, Jones at No. 12, and Teague No. 18.
Calipari is known as one of the best recruiters in the game.
"They're hungry and have a great product to push," Self said. "They're very aggressive and have done really well. He's been able to do very well with the guys that are bona fide NBA-talent guys, the one-and-done or two-and-done guys. They have a guy that came back this year that would have been a lottery pick last year in Terrence. They've done quite well. The thing about Calipari that I think is a little bit misleading is that guys can get reputations of being really good recruiters and very rarely do really good recruiters get the reputation of being a really good coach. I think he is a really good coach and he gets his teams to play hard and guard and play unselfish. That's the hardest thing to do with really young talented guys."
Kentucky holds a 19-6 edge in the all-time series, although KU has won the last three meetings dating back to 2005. The Wildcats and Jayhawks last met in the second round of the 2007 NCAA West Regional in Chicago as KU beat Kentucky, 88-76.
The series dates back to 1950, when Kentucky defeated Kansas, 68-39, in Lexington. KU scored a single-game record of 150 points against UK in a 150-95 win over Rick Pitino's Wildcats on Dec. 9, 1989.
THIS & THAT
- Kentucky and Kansas are the top two winningest programs in NCAA Division I college basketball with the Wildcats first at 2,053 wins and the Jayhawks second at 2,038 victories.
- This will be the first meeting between Self and Calipari since April 7, 2008 when KU defeated Memphis, 75-68, in overtime in the national championship game.
- Kansas leads the NCAA in conference men's basketball titles with 54. Kentucky is second with 50.