Three things to watch for when No. 2 UK plays No. 13 Kansas as part of the Champions Classic event at 9 p.m. on ESPN:
1. Terrence Jones vs. Thomas Robinson – Both Sports Illustrated cover boys, this will be the premier matchup on the court. Robinson is listed a
t 6-foot-10, 237 pounds and was the Jayhawks’ sixth man last season, averaging 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game. This year, he’s the leader. In Kansas’ first game of the season, a 100-54 win over Towson, Robinson scored 18 points (on 16 shots, double the amount any other player took) and grabbed 11 rebounds. This will be a big-time chance for Jones to show Calipari is right when he called Jones one of the best three players in the nation.
“He really does a great job of creating space for himself in transition,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “He’ll throw himself in pick-and-rolls and create space for himself to get the ball back. Now he’s playing out on the floor some, so he’ll bring it up the court on rebounds, shoot the 15-footer. He’s really good. It’s going to be a hard matchup for us. With Terrence, how much do you really want to put him on Robinson? And he’s probably too physical for a bunch of our guys.”
2. UK gets first test at validating ranking — And it’s a big one, as No. 2 UK gets No. 13 Kansas. UK is obviously talented; even if they lose this game, that fact won’t change. But they do get a shot to prove they have something special at an early stage of the season. Doron Lamb said it should be a “statement game,” and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said, “We just want to show everyone that we are the No. 2 team in the country. Or even No. 1.” Calipari continues to say, depending on what day you happen to listen to him, anywhere from 40-100 teams could beat UK. We’ll see if the 13th-ranked team in the nation is included in those 40-100 teams.
Of course, the same applies to a Kansas team that many think may be rated too high considering it lost a lot of players. “It may be a statement game, but I’m hoping it’s the one they think it’ll be,” Calipari said. “It could be another statement. I think Kansas, in the same sense, is going to make it a statement game.”
3. How UK reacts to knowing all eyes are on them — Calipari has talked before about how he thought his freshmen — in particular Kyle Wiltjer and Marquis Teague — have been affected by the awareness of a sold-out arena and being on TV. If that’s true for a game against Marist that was televised on FS South, a national game on ESPN in Madison Square Garden will give a much more thorough test to see how natural the freshmen are at handling the spotlight. If they do well, it projects well for later games, such as North Carolina and, looking even further and to even more important games, postseason play. Calipari, though, wants to temper how much this game matters in terms of his team’s readiness.
“Let’s just be the best we can be for Nov.14,” Calipari said. “If that’s not good enough, we’ll come back and regroup and keep going.”
Prediction: UK wins by three
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