Fresh off earning their latest No. 1 ranking atop both major polls, the Kentucky Wildcats will square off against the Steve Lavin-less St. John’s Red Storm at the Big East/SEC Challenge on Thursday night.
Lavin, of course, will sit out his third consecutive game as he continues to recover from prostate cancer surgery.
"I'm cancer free, but now recognize I set myself back with a premature return to the sidelines," Lavin said. "I was hoping with each subsequent game that my stamina would improve but instead it regressed. It became clear that presently I have not recovered enough from surgery to lead the team through the toil of a game."
Anyone who thought that inexperience would hinder the youthful Wildcats’ run to the top was clearly sorely mistaken. Despite having a freshman-infused starting-lineup (three altogether), Kentucky has had no problem absolutely thumping its opponents by an average of 30 points per game. Spearheading the offensive attack, though, are the two sophomores in Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, averaging 14.2 and 13.3 points, respectively.
Currently, all five of the team’s starters are scoring in double figures.
Kentucky is coming into this game versus St. John’s riding high after an impressive 87-64 victory over the admittedly not great Portland Pilots last Saturday. Really, the only reason that the outing was as close as it ended up being was because Portland miraculously hit 11 of 23 3-pointers.
Jones and the ever-reliable Darius Miller came through big in that one, scoring 19 points apiece. They also got a lot of help from guard Marquis Teague who had 14 points and eight assists, as well as Anthony Davis who racked up 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The one troubling thing about Saturday’s outing proved to be the battle on the glass – with the Pilots outrebounding the Wildcats 39-38 for the game. Needless to say, John Calipari’s bunch can get away with that kind of thing against the likes of Portland and perhaps even St. John’s, but it certainly won’t fly versus the North Carolina Tar Heels, who Kentucky has a date with this coming Saturday.
Fortunately, a rudderless St John’s team likely won’t pose much of a threat to the No. 1 team in the land, even if their last meeting was surprisingly eventful. Back in November of 2000, of course, St. John’s emerged victorious over Kentucky in a 62-61 thriller on the grand Madison Square Garden stage.
The Red Storm, ironically, also boast a very young and athletic line-up, though they haven’t had as much success as the team they’re slated to play on Thursday night. Fresh off a 78-64 home loss to Northeastern this past Saturday, it’s hard to say which incarnation of St. John’s will ultimately show up. Will it be the squad who lost to the only two truly competitive teams they have faced thus far in Arizona and Texas A&M? Or will it be a more determined bunch, one motivated by the prospect of taking down the big dogs yet again?
A lot of the answer to that question will depend on the play of sophomore Nurideen Lindsey and junior and without a doubt the best named player in college athletics, God'sgift Achiuwa. In the team’s loss to Northeastern Achiuwa scored 17 points and Lindsey pitched in 16, but it was to no avail as the team got absolutely blitzed by the opposition in the second half. For the year, Lindsey leads the team in scoring with 14.4 points per game.
When they’re firing on all cylinders, St. John’s has four guys who can hurt you. Whether or not they actually will hurt Kentucky is a whole other story.
On paper, this looks like it will end up a massacre. St. John’s ranks 161st in points per game, 252nd in rebounds per game and 297th in assists per game. Kentucky, meanwhile, ranks 13th in scoring, 2nd in rebounds and 34th in assists.
The math for a Red Storm victory just doesn’t jive.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. eastern time.