Historic Rupp Arena will be the sight of an SEC showdown Saturday when Kentucky plays host to LSU at 3 p.m. (SEC Network).
The home-standing Wildcats, 12-6 overall, 3-2 in the SEC, have fallen out of the top 25 and are trying to return to good form after a narrow loss at Alabama.
John Calipari's UK team has also dropped a home decision to Texas A&M in conference play, but every other one of Big Blue's four losses this season has come against top-notch competition (Louisville, Baylor, Notre Dame and Duke).
When it comes to being tested and hardened against the best, the 'Cats certainly have a leg up on LSU, 10-6 overall and 1-4 in league play, which lists Marquette and Boise State as its biggest non-conference tilts (on top of Florida in the conference).
Johnny Jones' Tigers scored their first conference win of the 2012-13 campaign Wednesday in a home triumph over Texas A&M.
Here are the projected starting lineups for this afternoon's contest.
Probable Starting Lineups
LSU (10-6, 1-4)
G Anthony Hickey (So., 5-11, 182) – 11.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 3.9 spg
G Andre Stringer (Jr., 5-10, 178) – 10.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.9 apg
G/F Malik Morgan (Fr., 6-4, 188) – 5.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.8 spg
F Johnny O'Bryant (So., 6-9, 258) – 11.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 48.1% FGs
C Andrew Del Piero (Sr., 7-3, 254) – 4.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Key Rotational Players: Shavon Coleman (Jr., 6-5, 195; averages 12.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 1.7 spg) and Charles Carmouche (Sr., 6-4, 187; averages 9.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.9 apg and 2.1 spg)
Kentucky (12-6, 3-2)
G Ryan Harrow (So., 6-2, 170) – 10.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.6 apg
G Julius Mays (Sr., 6-2, 192) – 8.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.1 apg
G Archie Goodwin (Fr., 6-4, 198) – 14.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.3 apg
F Alex Poythress (Fr., 6-7, 239) – 12.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 62.1% FGs
F Nerlens Noel (Fr., 6-10, 228) – 10.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.5 spg, 4.2 bpg
Key Rotational Players: G Jarrod Polson (Jr., 6-2, 198; averages 2.4 ppg and 1.3 rpg) and F Kyle Wiltjer (So., 6-10, 239; averages 11.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg and shoots 41.9% from deep)
One of the big questions in this one centers around whether or not LSU will unleash its full-court press with regularity. The Tigers erased a 14-point first-half deficit against the Aggies earlier this week with pressure, swiping a season-high 19 steals.
After the game point guard Anthony Hickey was quick to say he'd expect LSU to keep that momentum going and keep pressing.
First-year Coach Johnny Jones didn't sound as high on the idea, however, against this particular opponent during his weekly Thursday press conference.
"I can assure you we won't have to speed Kentucky up," remarked Jones. "They're not one of those teams that we'll have to try to get the tempo to our liking for them because they'll play fast. They'll get it up, push it up the floor and look for some easy scoring or quick opportunities. I think the same will be on our end. We're going to look to get it out. We're hopeful that we're able to execute at a high level and shoot the ball well. If we're shooting the ball well and they're getting it out of the net, that will help us in terms of slowing them down, trying to get to the other end of the floor. They will try and take advantage of every missed shot and every loose ball situation and try to push it and get after you. That's just their style of play."
The Wildcats feature five players who average double figures in scoring, four in the starting lineup and another coming off the bench in sixth-man ace Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-10 sophomore who can shoot from deep and will remind LSU followers of Florida's Erik Murphy.
UK is paced in the front court by freshman forward Nerlens Noel, who comes into today with season averages of 10.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per outing. He's joined in the paint by another freshman, Alex Poythress, who scores 12.7 points per game while shooting an uncanny 62.1% from the floor.
Together that starting duo will be a handful for Johnny O'Bryant, Shavon Coleman and whoever else ends up in the game down low for LSU. This game doesn't point toward a lot of Andrew Del Piero because Kentucky's bigs are so athletic.
Moving into the backcourt, freshman Archie Goodwin (14.6 ppg) leads the team in scoring and seems a likely matchup for Malik Morgan and Charles Carmouche throughout the game.
No Kentucky player averages more than 3.6 assists per contest, but starting guards Ryan Harrow and Julius Mays will be a nice foil for Hickey and Andre Stringer.
Should LSU have a realistic shot today, this is where it will turn the tide. Hickey, the nation's leader in steals fresh off eight thefts against the Aggies, has the capability of winning battles of pace and tempo with UK's perimeter players.
According to Jones, the key is controlling emotions for Hickey, a Kentucky native from Hopkinsville.
"Well, I'd much rather be in the position of trying to tone a guy down than trying to pick one up," Jones commented. "It's one of those deals where there will be some emotions. There's not a lot that you can talk about. It's about growth, maturity and understanding. That's something that he'll have to go through. He will recognize it, but I don't want to make him too conscious. Although he plays at a high level, I think that he'll have even a different burst of energy for this game and think that it will be positive for him.
"I look for him to come out a little bit different than other games. I think that's the norm for a player having an opportunity to go play at home where he grew up and played. It's one of the most storied programs and great traditions there at Kentucky. So, I'm sure he looks forward to having an opportunity to go out there and play on that floor where he's played before."
On the injury front, look for Carmouche to be back near full strength (and possibly even back in the starting five for Morgan) while Eddie Ludwig and Corban Collins sit.
PREVIEW: LSU vs. Kentucky
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