Kentucky basketball: Wildcats will tangle with Kansas in midseason marquee

Keion Brooks Jr of the Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Keion Brooks Jr of the Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

A lot will be on the line when the Kentucky basketball team heads to Lawrence, Kansas in the final days of January. More than likely a battle of top 10 ranked teams, but also a battle for supremacy atop the all-time winnest programs.

Kentucky learned they would be matched up with Kansas on January 29, 2022, as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

After a disastrous 9-16 record in 2020-21, Kentucky’s all-time win lead over the Jayhawks stands a just a mere four-game advantage. The Wildcats have won 2,327 games in 118 seasons while Kansas has 2,323 in 122 years.

Kentucky leads Kansas head to head but not lately

Kansas downed Kentucky 65-62 last seasons as part of the Champions Classic in Indianapolis after the Wildcats won 71-63 in Lexington in 2019 after dropping the previous three head-to-head matchups.

The last time the teams met in Lawrence was in 2016 where Kansas won 90-84 in overtime. Overall Kentucky leads the series 23-10, but 16 of them came in the first 17 games they played.

Kentucky didn’t participate in last year’s Big 12/SEC game when they were scheduled to take on Texas, but that tilt was canceled due to a combination of positive Covid-19 testing, contact tracing, and quarantining within the UK program.

The Big 12/SEC Challenge has been well scheduled and balanced out over the last five seasons. The leagues split the games in 2017, the SEC won it 6-4 in 2018 and the Big 12 edged the SEC 6-4 in 2019. The leagues tied 5-5 in 2020 and the SEC earned a 5-4 win in 2021.

While it’s safe to say we have all put last year behind us and are eyeing a much different team, season, and outcome this upcoming year the excitement of this matchup of blue blood programs gives Big Blue Nation something to look forward to on a cold Saturday in January.

In anticipation, Calipari has been quietly lighting a fire across the basketball landscape assembling a roster that promises much more balance in every category and much-needed leadership thanks to transfers and the return of players and transfers.

Knowing who he can count on will bode much better when this game shows up as an important game midway through the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule.

Players like Keion Brooks Jr., Lance Ware, Jacob Toppin, Dontaie Allen, and maybe Davion Mintz have seen action under Calipari along with Oscar Tshiebwe who practiced with the team last spring after transferring in from West Virginia.

While the return of Mintz seems unlikely he does have until July 7 to decide whether to remain in this year’s NBA Draft or play another season at UK.  If he returns watch out Kansas and the rest of the NCAA teams.

Calipari warned those who scoffed at the Wildcat’s demise last season to laugh while they could.

The UK coach spoke confidently of Brooks returning as a junior and has said this is his team

"“This should be Keion’s year,” Calipari said. “. . . He’s that veteran you’re saying, ‘You’ve got to be the center of this.”"

Add in the leadership of transfers Kellan Grady, CJ Fredrick, and Sahvir Wheeler, and the young players joining the team will have plenty of upperclassmen to mentor them and take much of the burden of teaching off Calipari.

That’s why this game will be circled for every Wildcat fan because this game should point squarely to where this team is headed entering February.

Alabama playing host to Baylor should also be a preview of teams looking to be on the big stage come March Madness along with the Wildcats and Jayhawks.

In addition to Kansas, UK has already announced nonconference matchups vs. Duke on Nov. 9 in the Champions Classic in New York, a road game at Michigan on Dec. 4, a neutral-site meeting against Notre Dame on Dec. 11, and a matchup with North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic on Dec. 18.