The Kentucky Wildcats will face bitter rival Tennessee for the first and only time this season when the ‘Cats and Vols tip off tomorrow at noon in Rupp Arena. The matchup in itself will be captivating on several levels:
1. This will mark the first season since 1952-53 in which Kentucky will not play a regular season game on the road at Tennessee
2. The two teams split the series 1-1 in 2012-13, though Tennessee won the latter contest at home by a 30-point margin in the Wildcats’ first game without Nerlens Noel
3. The ‘Cats are coming off their first conference loss of the season, after finding themselves on the wrong end of a heartbreaking overtime thriller in Fayetteville, AR
4. Saturday’s matchup will be the basketball team’s first game since University of Kentucky students returned to class on Wednesday
Reason No. 4 may not jump off the page at first glance, but it’s worth noting that the Wildcats built a four-game winning streak before falling short to the Arkansas Razorbacks over the student-athletes’ winter break from classes. The freshman-laden squad compiled a 2-0 record over November’s Thanksgiving break (bringing their overall record to 6-1 in games that took place while class was not in session), but lost their first game back in a semi-neutral environment to the Baylor Bears, 62-67. Hopefully, when the young ‘Cats return to school this time, the balance between basketball and books will be an easier load to bear when the two forces clash for the first time.
If the recent trend of Big Blue one-and-dones continues (which 2013-14 talent levels indicate it will), several players won’t have to worry about balancing sports and studies after this semester. Four Kentucky players remain on ESPN Insider Chad Ford’s latest edition of his NBA Draft prospect Big Board, version 5.0. Julius Randle finds himself at No. 4 [LINK], while Willie-Cauley Stein temporarily solidified a lottery spot at No. 11 [LINK]. James Young clocked in at No. 15 [LINK], and Andrew Harrison rounded out the list at No. 30 [LINK].
H/t to /u/iamtheraptor