KU gets their first real test of the 2017-18 season against a young, but talented Kentucky Wildcats squad.
Kansas is coming off an impressive opening night win over Tennessee State last Friday. The Jayhawks were spearheaded by a three-point barrage, as they shot 12-28 from beyond the arc. Senior guard Devonte’ Graham posted a double-double of 10 points and 12 assists, and nearly had a triple-double falling just short with seven rebounds. Junior wing Lagerald Vick broke out for a career-high 23 points, while going 4-7 from three-point land. Kansas will now look towards Kentucky in the Champions Classic.
About Kentucky: The Wildcats went 32-6 last season, winning the SEC before falling in the Elite Eight to the eventual champion – North Carolina. This season, UK was yet again picked to win the SEC. Kansas comes into the matchup on a bit of a roll against the Wildcats. Kansas took down the Wildcats last season in Rupp Arena and won in Allen Fieldhouse in 2016 as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Like every year, John Calipari’s squad features a whole new group of faces. The Wildcats boasted the second best recruiting class per Rivals.com, headlined by Kevin Knox and P.J. Washington. UK also brings back Wenyen Gabriel and Hamidou Diallo from last year’s team.
Game Info and Notes:
- Tuesday, November 14th, 2017 at 8:30 pm CT
- United Center; Chicago, Ill.
- ESPN or the WatchESPN app
- Kentucky holds a 22-8 mark over Kansas, but the Jayhawks have the last five of eight meetings
- The Jayhawks are 2-4 all-time in the Champions Classic, both wins coming against Duke
- KU is 1-1 in the Champions Classic games played at the United Center
- Bill Self is 5-4 against Kentucky as Kansas head coach
- The last time KU and UK met in the Champions Classic came in 2014; the infamous 72-40 beatdown
- Kentucky is 2-0 against Kansas in the Champions Classic by a combined 42 points. Yikes.
The Wildcats bring back just one player who saw meaningful minutes from last season; that player being Wenyen Gabriel. Hamidou Diallo also comes back from last year’s roster, but he sat out after enrolling in the second semester. That inexperience could probably be a reason why UK struggled early in the season. The Wildcats struggled in an exhibition game with Morehead State, before pulling away in the second half. They then opened up the season with consecutive pedestrian efforts against Utah Valley and Vermont. In fact, the Catamounts took them down to the wire before Kentucky pulled it out, 73-69.
Wildcats to Watch
Kevin Knox – 6’9″ freshman, wing
Knox was the crown jewel of Kentucky’s heralded recruiting class. He’s long and athletic. He’s going to try and fill it up. In UK’s first two games he’s taken 23 shots, while only making six of them. In an ideal world, Svi Mykhaliuk would draw the matchup here, but with Svi’s deficiencies on the defensive end I think you might see Vick on Knox
Hamidou Diallo – 6’5″ redshirt freshman, guard
Diallo had led the Wildcats in scoring in the first two games, going for 18 and 17 respectively. So far he’s shooting 50% from three-point land. If the Jayhawks can limit and contain Diallo, it could be a rough night for the Wildcats. The matchup between him and Malik Newman will be a fun one to watch.
PJ Washington – 6’7″ freshman forward
After only seeing 19 minutes in the season opening, Washington played 35 in Sunday’s win over Vermont. Her registered a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds, while shooting 50% from the field. Expect him to play within the confines of the three-point arc, he’s yet to take an outside shot this season.
Kansas 79, Kentucky 68
I like experience over youth in this one. Kentucky, so far, has played like a team full of freshmen and I don’t expect that to change by Tuesday night. By the end of the year, Kentucky might be one of the best teams in the country, but right now on November 13th they aren’t.
Kentucky had trouble guarding the three-ball on Sunday against Vermont, allowing the Catamounts to knock down 10 of them. They also were outrebounded against Utah Valley on Friday. It’s safe to say the Jayhawks are a step up in competition. These are two areas where I believe Kansas can and will take advantage of.
I like the experience of Graham, Vick and Neman to take over and guide the Jayhawks to a victory. Vick played one of his best games in a Jayhawk uni on Friday. This is an opportunity for him to really turn some heads on national TV.
One key for Kansas will be staying out of foul trouble, especially the interior guys like Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot and Billy Preston. KU only goes about eight deep; if the fouls piles up, it could be a tough game.
Another thing to look for in this matchup is the debut of five-star freshman Billy Preston. He missed Friday’s game due to missing class and curfew. Coach Self has compared him to a young Marcus Morris. If KU can get anywhere near that from Preston, he’ll certainly make a valuable contribution.