1. The Simmons Show Comes To Town
Rupp Arena has grown accustomed to showcasing No. 1 NBA draft picks in recent years, but until now, they've all worn blue and white with "KENTUCKY" across their chests. On Saturday, the Cats will get a dose of their own superstar medicine as LSU brings national player of the year candidate Ben Simmons to town. Somewhat fittingly, the last time a future No. 1 pick played in Rupp Arena against the Cats it was also an LSU Tiger, Shaquille O'Neal, in 1992. Simmons, a ridiculously skilled 6-foot-10, 240-pound "point forward," is averaging 19.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. UK "held" him relatively in check (14 points, 10 rebounds) in the first matchup this season, but his teammates stepped up big in a decisive victory in Baton Rouge. The Tigers will be without injured guard Keith Hornsby, who scored nine points and played a strong floor game in the first meeting, but the recent play of freshman wing Antonio Blakeney has helped fill the void. Blakeney, once a major recruiting target for UK, is averaging 19.8 points per game over the last eight games for LSU. Slowing him down may be as big of a key for the Cats as defending Simmons, who may get his regardless. UK must also do a better job on sophomore forward Craig Victor than it did the first time around when the burly big man posted a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. You won't find a team in the country with 12 losses and as much raw talent as LSU possesses. The Tigers (18-2, 11-6 SEC) are on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament, so they will be a desperate, dangerous team on Saturday.
2. Welcome Back, Willis
Kentucky (22-8, 12-5 SEC) should get a big lift in the form of Derek Willis, who is expected to return from an ankle injury that has sidelined him the last three games. It's an interesting plot line. The last time these teams played, the junior forward was largely an afterthought in John Calipari's rotation. But soon after he would become the player his coach credited for changing UK's entire season outlook. Willis, a "stretch 4" who gives the Cats a third scoring option from the perimeter and takes some pressure away from star guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, has made at least two 3-pointers in five of the last six games, including a career-high seven against Tennessee on Feb. 18. He's also had a pair of 12-rebound games in SEC play. It will mark the first time this season that Calipari will have both Willis and senior forward Alex Poythress in his main rotation -- possibly on the floor together at times -- a situation that the UK boss on Friday acknowledged that he's not completely sure how it will play out. "We don’t even know what this team looks like if I put him in with Alex. What does that team look like? We don’t know. We have no idea.”
3. Can Labissiere Build Momentum For Madness
Freshman big man Skal Labissiere broke out of a nearly season-long struggle in UK's last game, scoring 11 points and grabbing a career-high eight rebounds in the win at Florida. On his weekly radio show this week, Calipari said that type of performance -- while nothing sensational, especially for a guy who entered the season as the No. 1 signee in the country -- "changes everything" for the Cats if Labissiere can deliver it on a regular basis from here on out. He was largely a non-factor in the first meeting with LSU, scoring just three points and grabbing only two rebounds in 16 minutes of action. If he plays well on Saturday, it could signal that UK is getting ready for another one of Calipari's patented March runs.