To use presidential elections as a guide, Kentucky's first two games this season carry a potential degree of difficulty more like George W. Bush-Al Gore 2000 rather than Ronald Reagan-Walter Mondale 1984.
"It's not going to be 'Cupcake City,' " ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said of UK's opener against Maryland on Friday in the Barclays Center Classic. "... It's going to be a real battle."
Jay Bilas, who spoke on the same ESPN teleconference Tuesday, echoed sentiments expressed moments earlier by Vitale and more than once this pre-season by UK Coach John Calipari.
"Maryland's got the bodies to go against Kentucky," Bilas said. "It'll be a fair fight."
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After playing Maryland in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kentucky plays Duke in Atlanta's Georgia Dome on Tuesday.
In beating Northwood and Transylvania in exhibition play, Kentucky enjoyed an average margin of 39 points. Maryland, which a media vote predicted would finish sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference race, figures to be deeper and "much more talented" than the 17-15 team of last season, said Vitale, who added that Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon told him earlier in the week that he might have "under-scheduled" this season.
Maryland returns three starters, although ACC leading scorer Terrell Stoglin departed after violating the school's student-athlete conduct code. The Terps added three newcomers 6-foot-8 or taller.
"Anybody thinking that's a cupcake opener is out of their mind," Vitale said.
Duke is, well, Duke, a top 10 program with four starters returning from a 27-7 team. Bilas noted that one of the starters, Seth Curry, has been sidelined by a "cryptic" injury that sounded like a stress fracture. That might accentuate Duke's perceived weakness in perimeter shooting, Bilas said.
The timing of the first two games against veteran teams like Maryland and Duke does not work in Kentucky's favor, Bilas said.
"They don't have the talent advantage," he said of the Terps and Blue Devils. "But they have the experience advantage. The time to take advantage of that is early in the season."
Vitale and Bilas spoke of Kentucky as a team sure to become a national contender by season's end and an undisputed favorite to win the Southeastern Conference championship.
In a conversation earlier in the week, Calipari likened freshman Archie Goodwin to "a mini version of (Russell) Westbrook," said Vitale. "That's a helluva statement to me because Westbrook is so explosive."
Vitale offered a cautionary note: the absence of a veteran presence like UK enjoyed with Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller last season. "Those guys were able to take some of the hits away from young kids," he said.
Bilas likened Kentucky's team this season to the one that took time to mesh in 2010-11.
Though defeat seems a greater possibility against a Maryland or Duke than the customary easy opener, Vitale saw benefits.
"Instead of beating up all those bargain-basement goodies, he'll get a real evaluation, a real test," he said of Calipari.
Maybe fans of competitive basketball will get games as hotly contested as Tuesday's Barack Obama-Mitt Romney presidential election.
"If my house is any indication, it'll be a buzzer beater," Vitale said of Obama-Romney. "It was 3-3 in the Vitale household."
Woods on telethon
Morehead State Coach Sean Woods will participate in a telethon Wednesday to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The telethon will be carried by Lexington's WKYT-TV from 7 to 8 p.m. and CWKYT-TV from 8 to 9 p.m.
During the telethon, donations can be made by calling (859) 299-5455 or 1-800-733-2767. Outside the telethon, donations can be made by calling (859) 253-1331 or 1-800-733-2767, or visiting Redcross.org.
Calipari and UK players are also expected to participate in the telethon,
"There are millions of people in this country who love the game of basketball — and I do, too," Woods said in a statement. "But when natural disasters like this occur, it reminds us about what's truly important in life."
Morehead State is also participating in the Barclays Center Classic on Friday. The Eagles play Long Island-Brooklyn.