ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi sees no need to put make-or-break labels on the Kentucky-Louisville game in Rupp Arena.
"I think there's a huge difference between 'desperate' and 'desirous,'" he wrote in an email this week. "The truth is neither of these teams has done much out of conference (Louisville even less than Kentucky, in fact). And both would see their profiles enhanced significantly with a win.
"But to say either is 'desperate' in terms of NCAA selection is a real reach. Top seed, maybe, but we're nowhere near the danger zone for missing the tournament."
If UK and U of L finished among the top three in their conferences, Lunardi saw both teams in good position as at-large selections regardless of what happens Saturday. "By a very healthy margin," he wrote.
Noted numbers-cruncher Ken Pomeroy, who specializes in assessing teams' strengths rather than "bracketology," qualified his take on how this UK-U of L game can impact the Cats.
"It depends what the goal is," he wrote. "If they want a top-two seed, then sure, they need the game pretty badly. Otherwise, they could certainly recover from a loss to get a 3-5 seed."
Kentucky Coach John Calipari followed his custom by making light of any do-or-die implications.
"It's too early to even start talking about that," he said of the effect on NCAA Tournament seeding. "It's only a big game if we win. If not, it was the next game. Move on. If we win, it's huge."
Alex the great
Calipari said the sometimes-enigmatic Alex Poythress continues to excel in practice. "Playing as well as he's ever played here," the UK coach said.
Poythress noted how he sensed teammates worked out during the brief Christmas break.
"You can tell where players' minds and heads are at," he said. "How focused they are and how prepared they are for this game."
Red means go
Much has been made of UK's inability to stay in front of opposing guards. Now comes U of L's Russ Smith and Chris Jones, who average a combined 30.3 points and boast a combined assist-to-turnover ratio of 90-43.
"It's going to be hard," Calipari said of containing the U of L guards. "They play in a fourth and fifth gear. Here they come. If you stop at any point ... , it's really evident."
Calipari noted how the U of L team was well-coached and played hard. He also suggested the Cards seize on weakness.
"If they see blood, they're coming," he said. "Here they come. And they are a good team. They are where they should be ranked."
U of L is ranked No. 6. Kentucky is No. 18.
Calipari welcomed the idea of U of L's pressure speeding up the Cats.
"I'm trying to get us to play that way," he said. "Play fast. Push it."
The UK players must adapt to that notion. "Their nature and habit is to pull back," Calipari said. "To stand up. Mess with the ball. It's easier than, bang, here I come."
Nine U of L players average 17 or more minutes. Six UK players average that many minutes: the five starters plus Poythress.
Calipari noted a Catch-22 working against Kentucky developing more depth. The desire to give five-man units more time together works against more substitutions.
UK wants to "get some sort of synergy going," he said.
UK posted "another 3.0" team grade-point average in the fall semester, Calipari said.
"Now that's all shut down," he said of the semester break. "Now we are a basketball team and worrying about getting better as a basketball team and coming together."
U of L noted how its team had a 3.295 GPA for the 2012-13 academic year. The Cards also received an award for being in the top 10 percent in Academic Progress Rate.
U of L expects its team GPA for the just-completed fall semester to be between 3.0 and 4.0, spokesman Kenny Klein said.
Thanks, but no thanks
Kentucky freshman Dominique Hawkins considered U of L as a college choice.
"They basically told me to walk on the first year and we'll see what happens after that," he said.
Hawkins was not interested.
The first 7,000 fans at the Kentucky-Louisville game can receive the first of a four-part poster series, UK said.
The poster series features players on this season's team, UK said. The remaining three parts will be given away at future home games.
Doors open 90 minutes before tip-off.
■ Conspicuous by its absence was Calipari's usual soliloquy about Louisville's grabbing, holding, scratching and clawing defensive tactics. Maybe that's because U of L averages 19.0 fouls, and UK 18.8.
■ Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson will call the game for CBS.
■ Referees assigned to the game are Tony Greene, Mark Whitehead and Doug Sirmons.