The Commonwealth of Kentucky is home to the last two national championship trophies, and entering this season, we should all like the state's chances of making it three straight.
Comparing one Kentucky team to the year before is becoming a worthless exercise as John Calipari continues to reload with McDonald's All-Americans every season. Still, sophomores Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein return to augment a whopping eight-man freshman class.
Cauley-Stein finished strong after Nerlens Noel went down with a torn ACL, but Poythress did not. He averaged only 8.2 PPG over UK's final 13, becoming an afterthought in the offense. It won't be surprising if he fades into the background again this season.
Forwards Julius Randle and Marcus Lee have plenty of interior scoring potential, while swingman James Young may emerge from day one as one of the SEC's premier shooters. Guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison can both create from anywhere on the court, and if they play well with others, the UK offense will be very scary.
None of this is to denigrate Louisville, however. Coach Rick Pitino is in the Hall of Fame for a reason, and that's because few are better at tailoring a game to fit the opponent. Against a Kentucky team full of Ferraris, the Cardinals can take the game off-road and muddy up Big Blue's tires.
All-American guard Russ Smith can torment a defense like few others, but the 18-PPG scorer can harass offensive players, too. A sizable chunk of those points come from easy layups off steals.
The Harrisons will have a major size advantage over the 6-foot-nothing Smith, but the non-conference schedule may not prepare them for Smith's quickness and tenacity. Junior Wayne Blackshear, a 6'5", 230-pound athletic freak, will be handy to make the Harrisons pick on someone their own size.
The Cards will combat UK's young bigs with the burly and experienced trio of junior Chane Behanan, sophomore Montrezl Harrell and senior Stephan Van Treese. For all the pro buzz that the new Wildcats are generating, Harrell is a potential lottery pick in his own right.
The December 28 meeting should be one of the top non-conference games of the entire season. If new Louisville guards Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Anton Gill are ready to support Smith and not fade under the spotlight, the Cards can win this meeting. It's a hot light, though.
Slight Advantage: Kentucky