Big 12 vs. SEC: Previewing the Kentucky vs. Kansas Game

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 15th, 2011

The Champions Classic pits two of the most storied programs in college basketball in one of the most anticipated matchups of the early season. This clash features #2 ranked Kentucky Wildcats taking on the #11 Kansas Jayhawks in historic Madison Square Garden. The environment is sure to be electric as two of the nation’s marquee teams come together with a lineup of extremely talented players. The game will feature star power forwards as Kentucky’s Terrence Jones takes on the Jayhawk’s Thomas Robinson. The best of the Big 12 will meet the king of the SEC. It’s Kentucky vs. Kansas. And we have everything you need to know to prepare for the their inaugural Champions Classic game.

History of the Rivalry

This section was written by Gerald Smith. Gerald is an SEC microsite writer and the SEC Correspondent for Rush the Court.

Despite the thousands of games both teams have played over a century of competition, the Wildcats and Jayhawks have faced each other only 25 previous times. Kentucky leads the overall series 19-6, but Kansas has won the last three games and five of the last eight dating back to 1985. From 1969 until 1990, the teams faced each other yearly in December. After Kansas’ 150-95 drubbing of Kentucky’s probation-limited team — which prompted a public tirade from Kentucky head coach Rick Pitino —  the schools elected not to renew the series. The schools agreed to a home-and-home series for 2005 and 2006; Bill Self’s Jayhawks won both games against Tubby Smith’s Wildcats and the regular-season series lapsed yet again.

KU Ripped UK in the 2007 NCAA Tournament

Great games dot the all-time series. In December 1973, Roger Morningstar (father of just-graduated Jayhawk, Brady) scored 20 points to give KU its first victory over UK. On New Year’s Eve in 1984, Kentucky forward Kenny Walker dominated with 37 points and 19 rebounds as Kansas lost 92-89. KU legend Danny Manning had 30 points in the losing effort. Kentucky and Kansas played twice during the 1998-99 season: A Kentucky victory in the Great Eight and another matchup in the NCAA Midwest Regional Second Round. Wildcats forward Scott Padgett drained a three-pointer to force overtime and led his team to a 92-88 victory. Jayhawk Ryan Robertson scored 31 points in a valiant effort to extend Kansas’ season.

Tuesday’s matchup at Madison Square Garden is the 23rd time that one or both of the teams were in the Top 25 when playing each other. Kansas is 12-6 overall in MSG; Kentucky is 10-3. KU coach Bill Self is 3-1 all-time against the Wildcats and 1-0 versus UK coach John Calipari — in the 2008 National Championship game that happened for Kansas but didn’t actually happen for Calipari’s Memphis Tigers. Calipari is 0-3 all-time against the Jayhawks. The two coaches were nearly on the same coaching staff: Calipari was an assistant coach at Kansas from 1982-85, then Self joined coach Larry Brown’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 1985-86. Of course, KU and UK are tied all the way back to legendary coach Phog Allen and former Phog assistant turned UK coach Adolph Rupp.

Why Kansas Will Win

This section was written by Clark Williams. Clark is a Big 12 microsite writer and regular contributor to Rush the Court.

Tonight, Kansas and Kentucky, two of the most prestigious programs of all-time, will face off against each other in one of the waning games of the 24-hour college hoops marathon. And when the final buzzer sounds, it will be the Jayhawks who will walk away with the surprising victory. In the last five years, Kansas is 5-0 in its first non-conference marquee matchup of the season. This includes victories over Arizona twice, Washington, UCLA and Florida. The Kansas teams that won these games weren’t just the Aldrich or Morris twin-led powerhouses. Some of these victories were earned by Jayhawk teams that also faced “rebuilding” expectations, similar to this year’s Kansas squad. While Kentucky thrived in its season opener, they were led offensively by three freshmen — Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The youngsters of Kentucky excelled against a weak Marist squad, but they have yet to face a talented team. Also, they have yet to play in a “big-time” college basketball game, one where emotions can get the best of your game especially at a younger age. Kansas, on the other hand, will rely on Tyshawn Taylor, Travis Releford, and Thomas Robinson to lead them to victory in this early season test. While Davis, Teague, and Gilchrist have played a combined three games in their college basketball career, Taylor, Releford and Robinson have played 237. Experience matters, especially in marquee battles such as this one.

Why Kentucky Will Win

This section was written by Brian Joyce. Brian is an SEC microsite writer and regular contributor to Rush the Court.

Kentucky will win because, well, Kentucky needs a win. Everyone knows Kentucky is talented. But they are also inexperienced and without a true post presence. And while most believe that the Wildcats’ talent will take them far this season, very few are true believers that the Cats can win it all. That honor generally goes to North Carolina, a team with incredible depth in the frontcourt and more experienced players. Lots of experience. At some point, most think the Cats’ youth and lack of strength down low will be too much to overcome. A loss on Tuesday night would only reinforce this belief.

Will Calipari Get His First Victory Over Self Tonight? (LJ World)

The Wildcats need to win for their conference. The SEC hasn’t exactly proven its mettle thus far this season. Mississippi State lost to Akron. Vanderbilt lost to Cleveland State. And what if Kentucky loses to Kansas? The SEC can’t afford another disappointment. Nothing brings out the haters more than a John Calipari team losing on the national stage. This game against the Jayhawks is as good a time as any to keep the Big Blue critics quiet with a demonstrative performance. The Wildcats won an exhibition game by 85 points. They beat Marist by 50. But neither of those games were played in Madison Square Garden. They weren’t nationally televised on ESPN. And they certainly weren’t matched up against the likes of Kansas.

Kentucky doesn’t just need any kind of win. UK needs a blowout win. The Cats are currently a six-point favorite, and that is low compared to what Kentucky fans are expecting. Anything less than a double-figure romp would be disappointing for Kentucky players and the Wildcat faithful who have put this game on the calendar as the first of many coming-out parties for the young Cats on their trek for an eighth national title. “This game right here is like a statement game, to let everybody know how good we are,” UK guard Doron Lamb said. “We just want to prove to everybody that we’re the best team in the country.”

Kansas represents everything that critics of the Wildcats believe will be their undoing. Kansas has experience, returning three seniors and five juniors. The Jayhawks are a tough and physical team with size in the frontcourt (Robinson – 6’10”, Jeff Withey – 7’0″) that should give the Cats trouble. If Kentucky can rebound, defend the post and muscle up to the stature of Kansas’ big men, then not only is this a winning sign for Tuesday night, but for the remainder of the season.

Kentucky needs to win for several reasons, but most importantly because this game presents a challenge of the very obstacles that the Cats must overcome to be successful. Calipari can deny it all he wants and the national pundits will of course argue that November games don’t mean much, but Kentucky needs this win to make a statement. This is the kind of win that sends a signal to the rest of the nation — an early message that the Kentucky Wildcats won’t be satisfied with second best.

Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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