It’s time once again for that annual matchup against a fellow blue blood that is way too early in the season to draw any definitive conclusions. This year, the Kansas Jayhawks get to meet the Kentucky Wildcats in the Champions Classic in Chicago. To help prepare us for the matchup, I reached out to Jamie Boggs over at A Sea Of Blue, the SB Nation website devoted to Kentucky. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
RCT: As usual, this Kentucky team is loaded with talented freshmen, as John Calipari was able to bring in the #2 recruiting class for this year. Can you tell me a little bit about this class, and which player stands out the most to you?
ASOB: Yes, this is actually the youngest team that Calipari has had in Lexington, and that's saying something. Kevin Knox is the headliner of the group, and can score in a variety of ways. P.J. Washington was the star of the U19 FIBA Team USA team this summer, and brings a strong presence in the paint on both ends while also being able to run the floor. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green have been sharing point guard responsibilities, and their skill sets complement each other well. They also play well when they share the court. Nick Richards looks like the rim protector that Kentucky has needed in recent years, and his offensive game is coming along nicely. Finally, Hamidou Diallo bring the most "experience" of the new guys. He transferred to Kentucky in January and tested the NBA waters before he returned for his freshman season (I know how crazy that sounds). He is as athletic as any college player I have ever seen, and is definitely a leader on the court. Jarred Vanderbilt may be the most versatile player in the group and Jemarl Baker is an exceptional shooter, but you won't see any in the Champions Classic due to injury.
RCT: I was surprised to see the struggles that Kentucky had against Utah Valley and Vermont in their first two games. Can this be attributed to anything other than youth and inexperience at this point?
ASOB: Of course Coach Cal and the fan base attributes the struggles to youth, and it is hard to argue with that. Only two sophomores (Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones) have received significant playing time, so the majority of the minutes have gone to guys who have never played college basketball before. Big Blue Nation hopes (and believes) this will be a final four team come March, but we will see how patient everyone is with the growing pains early on.
RCT: It looks like Kentucky might have a few challengers in the SEC this year, as Texas A&M blew out West Virginia and Missouri dominated Iowa State without Michael Porter Jr. Is there any concern in Big Blue Nation about how these teams might match up with the Wildcats?
ASOB: Yeah, Florida was ranked in the top ten in the preseason as well. Most believe the Gators will be the biggest competition by the time league play rolls around. Texas A&M, Missouri, and even Auburn and Alabama once they get their eligibility issues figured out will all be much improved from recent years. While many fans will be concerned about not having as many easy wins, you would have to think the increased competition in the SEC will help Kentucky be more prepared for the tournament field. It could also help Kentucky's seed for the tournament with a better strength of schedule. So it isn't necessarily a bad thing for Kentucky to have to face better teams, but I don't know if you could convince fans that after a loss.
RCT: Which matchups will be key against Kansas? Any particular ones that concern you?
ASOB: Devonte’ Graham is a nightmare matchup at this point. Kentucky's guards have had a problem staying in front of driving guards in exhibition play and against Utah Valley and Vermont, so what will it look like against one of the best guards in the country? I do believe that Kentucky's length in the paint will benefit the Wildcats, but it will be interesting to see how they respond to the physical play of a veteran front line.
RCT: Prediction Time! Who pulls out the win in Chicago?
ASOB: As long as you promise not to publish this, I'll tell you what I really think. This early in the season, based on experience and how both teams have looked so far, I think Kansas wins this one pretty comfortably. I would say it will be a 15-18 point margin in the end. But if you ask me in March, I will probably have a very different answer.
RCT: BONUS - Megaman or Pac-Man?
ASOB: I LOVE Pac-Man, but Megaman is far too versatile. Gotta go with the hero over the ghost-eater on this one.
A big thanks to Jamie for helping us out today. There isn't a return set of questions for me to answer, but if you want more coverage, feel free to head over to A Sea Of Blue.