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The blueblood K brothers of basketball have been playing in Lawrence, Kansas, and Lexington, Kentucky, since 1898 and 1902, respectively.
And only three victories separate the two iconic brand names of the game. Kentucky leads college basketball with 2,343 wins against 732 losses (.761 winning percentage). Kansas is right behind at No. 2 with 2,340 wins against 873 losses (.728 winning percentage).
No. 5 Kansas (17-2, 6-1 Big 12) can gain ground on the No. 12 Wildcats (16-4, 6-2 SEC) Saturday (6 p.m. eastern, ESPN) at 16,300-seat Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence in the main event of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Kansas original coach James Naismith, who invented the game in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, may have liked this SEC/Big 12 Challenge idea. There will be 10 games between the two conferences, including seven involving ranked teams and three top five teams, from high noon eastern until not long before midnight, and all televised.
No. 19 LSU (16-4, 4-4 SEC) opens the day at 12 at Texas Christian (13-4, 3-3 Big 12) on ESPN2. Oklahoma (13-7, 3-5 Big 12) is at No. 1 Auburn (19-1, 8-0 SEC) at 2 p.m. on ESPN. No. 4 Baylor (18-2, 6-2 Big 12) is at Alabama (13-7, 4-4 SEC) at 4 p.m. on ESPN.
In other games involving ranked teams, No. 23 Iowa State (15-5, 3-5 Big 12) hosts Missouri (8-11, 2-5 SEC) at 2 p.m. on ESPNU, No. 13 Texas Tech (15-5, 5-3 Big 12) hosts Mississippi State (13-6, 4-3 SEC) at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, and No. 18 Tennessee (14-5, 5-3 SEC) plays at Texas (15-5, 5-3 Big 12) at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
The rest of the schedule has West Virginia (13-6, 2-5 Big 12) at Arkansas (15-5, 5-3 SEC) at 2 p.m. on ESPN2, Kansas State (10-9, 2-6 Big 12) at Ole Miss (10-10, 2-6 SEC) at 4 p.m. on ESPNU, and Oklahoma State (10-9, 3-5 Big 12) at Florida (12-8, 3-5 SEC) at 4 p.m. on ESPN2.
If that is not enough to keep you spinning, there are two SEC vs. SEC games on the SEC Network as Georgia (6-14, 1-6) is at Vanderbilt (10-9, 2-5) at 6 p.m. and South Carolina (12-7, 3-4) is at Texas A&M (15-5, 4-3) at 8:30 p.m.
“This is the ultimate challenge – going to Allen Fieldhouse,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Calipari’s first job in coaching was at Kansas from 1982-85 under coach Ted Owens and then Larry Brown, who won the 1988 national championship. When Calipari left for an assistant post at Pittsburgh, he was replaced by Bill Self, who has been Kansas’ head coach since 2003 and won the national championship in 2008. He beat Memphis – coached by Calipari – in the title game in overtime.
“If any program was gong to beat us in the national championship game, I said, ‘Let it be Kansas,'” Calipari said.
Calipari won the national championship in his third season at Kentucky in 2012 with a win over Self and Kansas.
Kentucky has won eight national championships. Kansas has three with six runner-up finishes. Kentucky leads Kansas in Final Fours, 17-15, and in NCAA Tournament appearances, 59-49.
After Calipari won his 800th game Tuesday night at Mississippi State, 82-74, in overtime, his thoughts turned to Kansas.
“I had some wonderful times there. I met my wife (Ellen) in Kansas,” he said. “It’s a great campus, great tradition.”
And Calipari wanted to make sure his team and himself were rested and particularly prepared to play there. He gave the team Wednesday off completely after the Mississippi State game.
“I told the guys, ‘I don’t want to see anybody. Don’t call me. Leave me alone. Let me get my mind set for what we’ve got to do,'” Calipari said. “We’ve got to travel to Kansas.”
Kentucky leads the all-time series against the Jayhawks, 23-10. Calipari is 5-5 against Self, who previously coached Illinois, all-time and 4-4 at their present jobs.
The two teams mirror one another in playing style.
“We have to do our stuff better than they do their stuff because it’s really similar,” Calipari said. “They shoot at a high percentage. They play really fast. They’re a top five team.”
Kentucky is No. 5 in the nation in field goal percentage at .497 to Kansas’ 10th at .493. The Wildcats are No. 9 in scoring with 82.2 points a game, while Kansas is No. 12 with 81.5.
Ochai Agbaji, a 6-foot-5 senior guard, leads the Big 12 in scoring and is ninth nationally with 21.3 points a game. He scored a career-high 37 in Kansas’ 94-91, double-overtime victory over No. 13 Texas Tech on Monday for the Jayhawks’ fifth straight win.
Kentucky had won four straight before it lost, 80-71, a week ago at Auburn, which moved from No. 2 to No. 1 two days after that game.
Oscar Tshiebwe, a 6-9 junior forward, leads Kentucky with 16.3 points a game and leads the nation in rebounding with a 15.2 average. He scored 21 points with 22 rebounds in the win over Mississippi State.
“Kansas is going to be a great matchup for us,” Tshiebwe said. “We’ve got to be engaged.”
And Kentucky sure could use freshman point guard TyTy Washington, who injured his ankle in the first half at Auburn and was missed significantly. The 6-3 Washington, who is averaging 13.6 points, 4.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds, did not play against Mississippi State, but he may return to action Saturday.
Calipari did not say that. Tshiebwe did.
“I’m pretty sure TyTy is going to be with us in Kansas,” Tshiebwe said. “Kansas is not going to be an easy game.”