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Our Cal > Your Fake Cal: A UConn-Kentucky preview

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All that is good and holy about college basketball.

All that is good and holy about college basketball.

Satan is said to have closed one eye for every program he's left in NCAA purgatory.

Satan is said to have closed one eye for every program he's left in NCAA purgatory.

(No TheLiveBlog tonight, from me, anyway. (Porter's note: I doubt will have one, but lets try an open thread thing. I'll try to post some comments below during the game, readers, please chime in.) I'm taking wonderful New Jersey Transit over to Madison Square Garden to take part in tonight's SEC-Big East Invitational festivities. Perhaps Porter or Shuttlesworth will have something up, though.)

First of all, before we get into the game preview, a fond welcome to Maurice Harkless, a class of 2011 wing who is rated four stars by Rivals.com. He announced his decision to join Coach Cal-a-mania Wednesday afternoon. In the Rivals article detailing his committment, Harkless is compared to West Virginia's Devin Ebanks and, at 6-foot-7, is said to possess a 7-foot-2 wingspan. Now get us Brandon Knight and an awkward-yet-talented 7-footer and that 2012 national title should wrap itself up.

But on with the game.

There's a strange sense of inevitability about tonight's game against #4 Kentucky in New York City. Sort of like the exact opposite of my feeling before the Elite Eight game last year.

UConn's probably going to lose tonight. Kentucky has returned to their place in the college hoops elite, and they're doing it with one of the most impressive group of athletes I've seen since the 2006 UConn team.

Their coach may be a no-good dirty squid who would use smiling schoolchildren as bait if it let him bring in Godzilla to play the 5, but damn if the man can't get his record wiped clean by the NCAA after leaving a program assemble a team to run his offense.

John Wall and Patrick Patterson scare the living hell out of me. UConn appears to be a ridiculously flawed team that deserves to be nowhere near the top 20 at the moment.

It theoretically should add up to the Wildcats opening a can of whoop-ass on UConn tonight at the World's Most Famous Arena.

While it could get that bad, ultimately I think Kentucky will only end up winning by 5-10 points. Anything above that is gravy and most likely a big step forward for this team as it awaits the return of Ater Majok. At the very least, it means UConn fans (and hopefully players) can head into tonight's game feeling no pressure.

My cardinal rule in life: if you have expectations of failure, then you'll always be 1) correct or 2) successful. I can be happy either way.

The game: #4 Kentucky (8-0) vs. #14 UConn (6-1), Big East-SEC Invitational

The place: Madison Square Garden, New York

The time: 9:30 p.m., or 30 minutes after St. John's and Georgia set back the game of basketball 20 years

The media: ESPN (TV), WTIC 1080-AM (radio)

The Vegas favorite: A pick-em?

Series history: UConn leads, 1-0

Last meeting: UConn 87, Kentucky 83 (March 19, 2006 in Philadelphia, NCAA Tournament Second Round game)

Ah, the 2006 NCAA game everyone forgets about. It was fairly close, as I remember, though Kentucky never seriously threatened to take the lead late. But no one remembers it because it was sandwiched between the Albany panic attack, the Washington heart palpitations and that other game.

In addition, UConn is 2-1 all-time against Calipari, with the two wins coming against Amherst State Penitentiary, and the loss coming against Memphis in the 2007 2K Sports Classic in MSG.

State of the Huskies: We suck.

Jeremy Lin of Harvard became the next in the line of "mid-major players who look like stars against UConn," scoring 30 points and keeping the Crimson in Sunday's game at Gampel. Lin's good, but he looked like the best player on the floor Sunday, and that is simply sad.

Jerome Dyson had a great line, but continued to play exactly as he did a few years ago - wild, off-balance 16-footers and uncontrolled drives into traffic underneath the basket.

The bench continues to be a nonfactor, by far the most disappointing subplot of the early season. Tuff McJuice, "No Nickname" Smith, D-Bev, Charter Ok, Other Jamaal...none of them have contributed much of substance. True, Cal hasn't let them contribute (because every game has been close), but at some point the kids gotta step up.

On the positive side: Gavin Edwards is suddenly a consistent scorer and rebounder, Kemba Walker is developing a 3-point shot, which is pretty much the only thing standing between him and world domination, and Real Coach Cal remains as fiery as ever.

Another positive: we're only 11 days away from it getting Majok-cal.

So, tell me a little bit about the Wildcats:

They're good. Fake Coach Cal has put together some horses that could challenge for the Final Four, although they're still a very young team. A solid win over North Carolina looks even better because of the 31-4 first-half UK used to take control.

But the Wildcats, like UConn, have also struggled with mediocre opponents, needing some late-game heroics to beat Miami (OH), Stanford and Sam Houston State.

Either way, it's better for UConn to catch them now than before they really gel in a couple months.

Check out the game notes: UConn's are here, while Kentucky’s are here.

Media matters:

Everyone keeps saying that UConn and Kentucky are kind of alike, but I keep being a pessimist and say that UConn has four contributing players right now.

Excellent statistical rundown on what to expect tonight. I love reading previews like this one, though writing-wise, it's much easier to lob insults toward the opposing coach and complain about how bad Tuff McJuice is at shooting the 3.

What I'm trying to say is, check them out.

From the national media people:

KEMBA!

Dana O'Neil cuts us deep by noting that Coach Cal has never tried to choke Fake Coach Cal. Not everyone can act out their dreams of choking John Calipari, Ms. O'Neil. Stop rubbing it in.

A brief preview: I dread this game.

Kentucky is a matchup nightmare because they're somehow longer and more athletic than UConn, and they've got players who can flat out score. Wall (18.1 ppg), Patterson (16.6 ppg) and DeMarcus Cousins (14.8 ppg) get all the publicity, but three other players (Eric Bledsoe, Darnell Dodson and Darius Miller) are all near double-figures in scoring.

Of course, Wall by himself (7.7 apg, 4.1 rpg, 2.1 spg) is terrifying, though I am anxious to see how Jerome Dyson (not Kemba, since Wall is 6-4) can do defensively against the freshman.

A win would be fantastic, and yet another feather in the Big East's abnormally-sized cap (holler if you hear me, 16th-place, 6-3 Providence). A loss would be somewhat expected, but I'll settle for a decent game from SOMEBODY, ANYBODY besides Dyson/Sticks/Kemba.

Let's show a pulse and show we at least belong on the court with a top-five team, unlike UConn's last effort at MSG 12 days ago.

The prediction:

Kentucky 85, UConn 77