Showdown: Kentucky Comes to Town


Their last three meetings have ended in disaster. Now, it’s time for redemption. Kentucky makes a road trip Saturday, January 30, to Lawrence, KS for the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Kansas men’s basketball team is 6-22 all-time vs Kentucky. The rivalry, if you will, dates back to 1950 — Kentucky won its first five meetings against Kansas. The teams, which are often ranked among the top 25, meet again this time with the Allen Fieldhouse crowd support. Because there’s a long history of competition between the basketball programs, it’s a good idea to break down the two legacies.


KU vs. UK: In 1865, the University of Kansas and University of Kentucky were established. The universities are the largest within their respective states and rank among top institutions to attend in the US. The University of Kansas is a public research university with several campus sites. The University of Kentucky is under development per the “Top 20” program, which transitions the university into a public research institution. According to the UK budget office, the transition will be complete by 2020. Through the course of this development, UK has increased endowment and enrollment. If we’re looking at which school is more “successful” based on endowment, Kansas wins.  The universities are equally well-known for their athletics — specifically basketball. Kansas: the crimson and blue; Kentucky: the blue & white. If we’re looking at which school is more “successful” based on alumni, it’s probably an even contest. (But we’ll revisit this later.)


Coach Self vs. Coach Calipari: Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari got his start at the University of Kansas. Yes, you read me right. From 1982-1985, Calipari served as an assistant under Ted Owens and Larry Brown. He’s also spent time coaching at several universities-including the 2008 Memphis team-as well as in the NBA. Calipari, 56, is 606-180 all-time and 203-42 as Kentucky head coach. Under Calipari, the Wildcats earned an NCAA tournament bid five times and one NIT tournament bid (2012-13). Thankfully, Bill Self’s Jayhawks have yet to completely tank and face the exile that is the NIT tournament. In Self’s 12 years as Kansas head coach, the Jayhawks have played for a chance at an NCAA title every year. Self, 53, is 567-184 all-time and 363-79 as Kansas head coach. Both coaches have only earned one championship title at their respective schools. So, who’s the better coach? Bill Self for President. Less one-and-dones. True talent.


Lawrence vs. Lexington: It’s easy — Lawrence is a college town. And my favorite bar is there (shout out to Sandbar). There’s no real competition here for me because there’s no way that you can convince me a city in Kentucky outranks Lawrence. You can’t.


Allen Fieldhouse vs. Rupp Arena: Here’s another Kansas-Kentucky connection: Adolph Rupp — Rupp Arena’s namesake — played for the Kansas Jayhawks under legendary coaches Phog Allen and James Naismith. He learned from the best. You’re welcome, Kentucky. Unlike Rupp Arena, Allen Fieldhouse is historic. It opened in March 1955; Rupp opened in November 1976. Rupp Arena holds about 7,000 more fans, but that doesn’t mean Wildcat fans aren’t more vocal. ESPN: The Magazine named Allen Fieldhouse the loudest college basketball arena in the country. The crowd reached 122 db during overtime of the last Border Showdown in 2012. While Kentucky has an impressive attendance record, it’s hard to argue that Allen Fieldhouse isn’t one of the best places to play college basketball.

If you love basketball; if you love and respect the history of the game, every road leads back to Lawrence, Kansas. This magnificent building cannot be captured in words. This building has a soul. It’s a cathedral of college basketball. It is the ultimate bucket list place for every player, every coach, every fan, every official – everyone. — Jay Bilas


Big Jay vs. Wildcat: If the two mascots were real creatures (a wildcat and a bird), one would obviously eat the other purely based on natural selection. In my fantasy world, I’d hope that the bird would outsmart the cat, and just peck it on the head (I actually despise both animals). In this case, you tell me which one looks more lovable? I think the choice is easy, but that’s my bias talking.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Regionals - Newark

Pierce vs. Rondo: Paul Pierce spent three seasons (1995-98) at the University of Kansas under coach Roy Williams. Almost ten years later, Rajon Rondo played for coach Tubby Smith at the University of Kentucky for two seasons (2004-06). In 2008, Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Rondo comprised the quartet that brought an NBA championship to the Boston Celtics. Rondo, at that point, had only been in his sophomore year in the NBA while Pierce had 10 years of experience on him. Since then, Rondo has been plagued with injuries while Pierce has been plagued with failed new beginnings (NJ Nets, Washington Wizards, and so far, LA Clippers). In terms of career and who will be remembered in 20 years: I’m gonna have to side with Paul Pierce on this one. 10-time all star, No. 34 retired in Kansas, and he’s scored over 20,000 points with the Celtics alone, which puts his name next to Larry Bird’s. Legen-dary.

Mason vs. Ulis: A point guard showdown. Frank Mason earned his spot on the Kansas roster with consistent and dominant play. Mason has always been great at making baskets (14 ppg) —  especially in the clutch. As a junior, Mason has stepped up as a leader on the team; he averages about 34 minutes per game. Bill Self relies on his point guard to be the leader on the court, but it definitely seems that Kansas’ woes correlate with Mason’s slumps. The Kentucky point guard, Tyler Ulis, is only a sophomore but is one of the Wildcats most valuable players. Ulis scores about 15 ppg and averages 36 minutes on the court. Coach Calipari has “the nation’s best point guard” according to several media outlets. And Calipari uses the point guard to boost his team in times of need — Ulis helped the Wildcats end scoring droughts in their game against Vanderbilt last week. I can’t possibly pick a winner in this category — the kids will have to fight it out.


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