Kentucky coach John Calipari never has been accused of being understated as a salesman, but as his No. 5 Wildcats (20-3, 9-1 SEC) prepare to host the surging No. 19 LSU Tigers (19-4, 9-1) at Rupp Arena in Lexington on Tuesday night, his SEC basketball sales pitch is in full throttle.
On Tuesday night, it is LSU.
On Saturday, Kentucky faces No. 1 Tennessee.
Calipari shakes his head and says he has seen enough about a revitalized league that is excelling at something other than football.
"The next two (LSU and Tennessee), you have games that are Elite Eight, Final Four games," Calipari said Monday. "That is where we are playing now. Let's see where we are. The good news is, whether on Tuesday or Saturday, there will be more games. Are we where we think we are?"
The Wildcats, coming off a 71-67 road win against Mississippi State on Saturday, are 13-0 at Rupp Arena, and 23,000 Wildcat fans figure to give the place a homey, blue-and-white feel on Tuesday night.
"This is going to be war, war, war -- or two wars, and then we get to go to the NCAA Tournament," Calipari said. "All those (SEC) teams are going to be in the NCAA Tournament."
LSU, which has won 12 of its last 13 games, is 5-1 on the road but has not won at Rupp since 2009. But the Tigers have a formidable one-two punch in sophomore point guard Tremont Waters and 6-10 freshman forward Naz Reid, who combines muscle in the paint with an unusually silky outside shot.
Waters was named SEC Player of the Week for averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 assists, 4.0 steals and 3.5 rebounds in victories over Mississippi State and Arkansas. Reid was selected Freshman of the Week for averaging 21 points and 9.5 rebounds in those victories, and he equaled his career high of 29 points against Mississippi State.
"Tremont does an unbelievable job at stealing balls on defense and creating havoc that way, and then, offensively, he really sees the court and can score," Calipari said.
Kentucky figures to try to slow Waters' penetration with Ashton Hagans, but the Wildcats' rangy guard has gotten into early trouble in the last few games.
"Teams are coming him hard now," Calipari said. "They're figuring out who he is. (I told him to) drive it some, shoot it some. he's so physical and so long, he can create havoc himself both on the offensive and defensive end."
LSU hopes to get off to better starts than it has in recent games. Despite closing games well -- as well as getting to the free-throw line and dominating the offensive glass -- LSU has had to overcome double-digit deficits against four of its last five opponents.
But, LSU has won four of those five games.
"We're getting better, we're getting better, we're improving," said LSU coach Will Wade. "That's the name of the game at this point -- to keep stacking the good steps, and we've done that. We're not always perfect, but we do play extremely hard.
"It's pretty simple. We just go (to the offensive glass) every time. You have to go 80 percent of the time, plus. Most of the battle is just getting your guys to go and go hard."
--Field Level Media