Doron Lamb gets right to the point: Kentucky’s matchup with No. 12 Kansas in Madison Square Garden is a statement game.
Coach John Calipari hopes his young Wildcats realize they might not control the message.
Second-ranked Kentucky starts a three-game road trip on Tuesday against the Jayhawks in the second game of the State Farm Champions Classic doubleheader. No. 6 Duke plays Michigan State in the opener.
Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product opened Kentucky as 6 1/2-point favorites, with the total set at 147 1/2 points.
“It may be a statement game, but I hope it’s the one they think it will be,” Calipari said. “It could be another statement, and I think Kansas in the same sense is going to make it a statement game.”
Calipari has maintained that his team is so young that the staff is behind in putting in little things like inbounds plays.
“This is a great test,” the coach said. “If we’re in a close game and stuff doesn’t go right, don’t look at my players. That’s me. We just haven’t had time. It’s the middle of November. Let’s hope it’s not a one-point game and someone has the ball late.”
While Calipari is trying to lessen expectations against the Jayhawks, Kansas coach Bill Self points out that Kentucky, with six freshmen, may have more experienced players than his team does.
“They return more minutes than we do when you stop and think about it with Darius Miller and Terrence Jones,” Self said. “They are young, but they’re very talented.”
The trip to Madison Square Garden is a homecoming for several players.
Lamb grew up in the New York City borough of Queens, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played on the other side of the Hudson River at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J. Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor is from Hoboken, N.J. and went to St. Anthony.
“I always wanted to play in the Garden, always watched the Knicks when I grew up. So I can’t wait,” said Lamb, who expects at least 15 family members to be in attendance. “This game right here is like a statement game to let everybody know how good we are. We just want to prove to everybody that we’re the best team in the country.”
Lamb has a strong start to the season. He’s been consistent as the backup point guard behind freshman Marquis Teague. The only thing that has slowed him down is his left eye, which was still bloodied on Monday after Anthony Davis scratched him in the season opening 108-68 win over Marist on Friday.
Lamb has been wearing goggles in practice, but says he won’t use them on Tuesday night.
“He’s our most skilled, quote, `basketball player,”‘ when it comes to his feel and understanding of the game, Calipari said. “He needs to be able to play both (guard) positions and he’s shown he can do it.”
Lamb’s role is even more important after Calipari announced on his website following availability that sophomore guard Stacey Poole had decided to transfer.
While Kentucky is No. 2 in the latest poll, the Wildcats didn’t receive a single first-place vote again in this week’s poll. Kansas, meanwhile, moved up one spot after routing Towson 100-54.
“They have a lot of talent, but I think we can match up with them pretty well,” Taylor said. “I like our team, how we look and how we match up with them.”
After the game, Kentucky will travel to Uncasville, Conn., to play Penn State on Saturday and either Old Dominion or South Florida on Sunday as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament.
Kansas heads home before taking off for Hawaii as part of the Maui Invitational that starts on Monday, where the Jayhawks will begin against Georgetown.
Before they leave New York, both teams want to leave a lasting, early season impression.
“It’s going to be really fun for all of us on the court,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “We are ready for all of it.”