College basketball analyst Dick Vitale sees Sunday's game against Louisville as an opportunity for Kentucky to make a statement.
"You've got to win the games they've been winning... ," Vitale said of UK's six-game winning streak against teams with modest Ratings Percentage Index numbers. "The true test is when you start playing Louisville and the conference. You separate the contenders from the pretenders."
Speaking in general terms, Vitale added, "So many teams have gaudy records early in the year. Then all of a sudden — bam! — league play comes and mediocrity sets in."
Not that Vitale sees no value in beating lesser lights.
Those games are good for "building confidence," he said. "Winning becomes contagious. Now they really have to believe they can win against good competition. We don't know that yet."
UK Coach Billy Gillispie downplayed the suggestion that victory on the road against a ranked opponent would separate the metaphorical men from the boys.
"A home victory separates the men from the boys," he said. "Every game separates the men from the boys."
Half of CBS's top announcing team for college basketball will work the game. No. 1 color commentator Clark Kellogg, who replaced Billy Packer this season, will be in Freedom Hall. The network's No. 1 play-by-play man, Jim Nantz, won't join Kellogg until March.
The pair worked the Georgetown-Memphis game on Dec. 13. Nantz will do football and golf until March.
"He's a pro, and I've been doing it for a long time," Kellogg said in brushing off any concerns about the lack of on-air experience together. "We have good rapport. Our approach is similar."
By that, Kellogg said, he meant that he and Nantz "try to keep the game central and most important."
As a high school senior in Cleveland, Kellogg was a prime recruiting target of UK's. He made official visits to Notre Dame, UK, Ohio State and Michigan. He attended an invitation-only camp at UK in the summer before his senior season before ultimately signing with Ohio State.
Kellogg saw one significant trait shared by UK and U of L.
"Both teams are similar in terms of where they struggle with their consistency in the backcourt," the CBS analyst said. "In trying to grow into getting things done. Those positions are always critical to the success you'll have."
Gillispie disagreed, lauding Louisville's guards while saying Kentucky's guards had room for improvement.
"If they get much better, they'll be awfully good," the UK coach said of Louisville's guards. "I think they're great. They've got three or four guys who can initiate offense. Nobody can take the ball away from them. They have a ton of experienced guys.
"And if that's not working, (forward Terrence) Williams initiates offense. ... If they want the four-man (Earl Clark) to act like a point guard, they can do that, too. Not too many people have that kind of option."
UK pressures U of L?
While much attention is focused on Louisville's pressure defense, could the Cards be vulnerable to good defense?
Against teams with either a noted desire to defend (Minnesota) or rabid interest in winning (Western Kentucky), U of L shot 37.7 percent and (against Minnesota) 26.8 percent (against WKU).
But Gillispie shied from the suggestion that UK could pressure Louisville. "They're not the best team to try to pressure because they're very athletic," he said. "They handle the ball well and pass well."
Early last week, Internet speculation focused on freshman Darius Miller's unhappiness. The player's father acknowledged his son's frustration.
But Gillispie said there was "nothing" to update.
"He's just working hard like everyone else," the UK coach said. "Trying to get better."
Statistics can be tortured into saying UK-U of L will be a defensive struggle. UK opponents are shooting with 36.7-percent accuracy, U of L's 37.4 percent. ... U of L has made 34.7 percent of its three-pointers while holding opponents to 28.8 percent. UK opponents have made more threes (88) than the Cats (80). ... Play-by-play man Kevin Harlan will join Kellogg in calling the game for CBS. ... Referees John Cahill, Tim Higgins and Tony Greene have been assigned to the game.