"Kentucky has changed their ball club," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "This has been quite a year for Tubby Smith, as far as shaping his team. He's changed the lineup and changed the pace of play but right now offensively this is a really good basketball team. They lead the league in 3-pointers made. They're fourth in scoring and fourth in field-goal percentage. Their assists are way up."
Guard Patrick Sparks has started all 22 UK games this season, while backcourt mate Rajon Rondo has started 21, missing one game with a strep infection. The other three positions, however, have been incredibly unstable.
Kentucky opened the season with 7-foot Lucasz Obrzut and 6-foot-7 Sheray Thomas in the starting lineup. By Game 3, however, 7-foot-3 Shagari Alleyne had replaced Obrzut and 6-foot-8 Rekalin Sims had supplanted Thomas. Game 4 saw the Cats go small, starting 6-foot-6 Bobby Perry ahead of Alleyne and 6-foot-2 Ravi Moss ahead of 6-foot-4 Joe Crawford. That lineup lasted four games, then Obrzut and Thomas returned to the lineup for Game 8.
The shuffling continued throughout pre-conference play. The NCAA's controversial decision to restore the eligibility of 6-foot-11 Randolph Morris, who declared for the NBA Draft last spring but was not selected, gave Coach Smith one more piece for his ever-changing puzzle as SEC play opened.
Morris cracked the lineup one game after rejoining the team but the shuffling continued until two weeks ago. Smith finally settled on a lineup of Morris, Perry, Crawford, Rondo and Sparks. That quintet has started the past four games.
"I know it's been a challenging year, as far as Kentucky finding itself in third place in the SEC East after the first eight games," Pearl said. "But, from the standpoint of all the personnel changes, I think Coach Smith has done a wonderful job getting this team playing really good basketball right now."
Tonight's tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Rupp Arena, with TV coverage provided by ESPN.