Kentucky and No. 9 Kansas, two of the most tradition-rich programs in college basketball, are headed in opposite directions this season as they prepare for a seismic showdown in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at Rupp Arena on Saturday night. The Jayhawks (16-4) have dropped three straight games since rising to No. 2, while the Wildcats (14-6) have won four straight to resurrect a once-directionless season.
While the Jayhawks remain in far better NCAA Tournament positioning than Kentucky as a projected No. 2 seed in Jerry Palm's Bracketology, a loss would be historic for the Jayhawks. Never in coach Bill Self's 20-year tenure have the Jayhawks dropped four straight games, and Kansas must win inside one of college basketball's most hostile venues to keep that from changing.
Kentucky enters as just a projected No. 10 seed in Palm's Bracketology but is suddenly surging behind a revamped rotation that turned around the team's fortunes. Following a Quad 4 home loss to South Carolina on Jan. 10, UK fell to 1-3 in SEC play, which marked its worst conference start since the 1986-87 season. Kentucky found something in a stunning road upset of No. 4 Tennessee on Jan. 14, however, and hasn't looked back.
With two of the game's top stars in Kansas forward Jalen Wilson and Kentucky center Oscar Tshiebwe on the floor for this primetime showdown, the UK-KU matchup could go down as one of the best in the regular season.
How to watch Kentucky vs. Kansas live
Date: Saturday, Jan. 28 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Rupp Arena -- Lexington, Kentucky
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Kentucky vs. Kansas: Need to know
Revenge element: When these teams met last season at Kansas, Kentucky smoked Kansas 80-62 in a top-12 matchup. Keion Brooks Jr. exploded for 27 points to lead the Wildcats, who led 51-31 at halftime and never looked back. Ultimately, the Jayhawks recovered to win the national title, and Kentucky wound up losing to No. 15 seed Saint Peter's in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Because of the way the season ended for both teams, UK's massive road win over the Jayhawks stands out as one of the most aberrational results of the 2021-22 season. The Jayhawks should be motivated to exact revenge.
Final SEC/Big 12 Challenge: This marks the final year of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The annual cross-conference showdown began in 2013-14 and matched up the Wildcats and Jayhawks four times previously. Within the confines of the challenge, the Kansas-Kentucky series is deadlocked at 2-2, making this game the rubber match. Two games have been played at Rupp Arena and two at KU's Allen Fieldhouse with each school notching one win and one loss on the other's home floor.
Freshman battle: This game will bring one of the best matchups between freshmen of the season. Sharpshooting Kansas wing Gradey Dick and versatile Kentucky guard Cason Wallace, two of the top newcomers in the sport, will square off as former five-star prospects in the Class of 2022. Dick is averaging 14.9 points on 43.7% 3-point shooting and is an excellent sidekick to Wilson. For UK, Wallace has been the ultimate utility player with stingy defense, on-ball distribution prowess and a solid 39.6% 3-point shooting mark. He played a lot of point guard during the Wildcats' four-game winning streak, and the results have been great.
Kentucky vs. Kansas prediction, picks
One of the most fascinating elements of the Kansas-Kentucky matchup is how KU's undersized approach in the front court will fare against UK's interior monster, Oscar Tshiebwe. While UK has grown more versatile defensively amid a role reduction for undersized point guard Sahvir Wheeler, the Wildcats haven't played an offensive as dynamic as Kansas' since getting torched by Alabama on Jan. 7. If the Jayhawks can use their undersized groupings to draw Tshiebwe away from basket and force Kentucky to guard players like Jalen Wilson, Gradey Dick and Kevin McCullar 1-on-1 off the dribble, it could be a long night for UK. Prediction: Kansas +1.5
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