Top 10 squads Kentucky and Louisville open Friday
Basketball season is finally here and fans in hoop-crazed Kentucky can't wait. There should be plenty to cheer about.
Louisville opens the season ranked ninth with coach Rick Pitino on the brink of his 600th victory and about to pass a Cardinals' icon.
And the beloved Wildcats were No. 2 in the preseason poll.
''It's the time we've been waiting for,'' said Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. ''We've been waiting for the season to start and now it's finally here so we're all just amped up. We can't wait.''
Seems everyone is amped up.
Both programs are expecting deep runs in the NCAA tournament and are taking decidedly different early season paths.
The Cardinals will start with a stretch of 12 of 13 at home, while Kentucky faces Marist before a weeklong trip with stops in New York City to face No. 13 Kansas and two games in Uncasville, Conn. as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament.
The Wildcats are coming off an 85-point exhibition victory over Division II Morehouse. Coach John Calipari wasn't impressed.
''I'm still sticking by there's 60, 70, 80 teams that could beat us,'' Calipari said. ''Now, I will say this: The way we played against Morehouse, it would be hard for them. Because it wasn't just Morehouse. It's how we played.''
Kentucky has looked sharp in two exhibitions with a rotation that includes senior Darius Miller, sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb along with freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer and Davis.
Jones appears on one of the regional covers of Sports Illustrated this week, something that he says is a reflection of the team.
''It feels real good to be able to represent the school and the team on something that big,'' Jones said.
And Calipari said he's fine with where his team is starting even though he believes the Wildcats have a lot of unanswered questions.
''Everybody doesn't want to accept when I said it's going to be hard,'' Calipari said. ''We just talked today: What if we want to massage the ball? We haven't done it yet. What do we do late shot clock if it's winding down? How do we get a 3? I mean, we just put in out of bounds plays. Other teams are way, way ahead of us.''
Louisville probably is about at the same level of preparation as Kentucky because of a rash of preseason injuries from a group that returns 11 players from last season.
Rakeem Buckles (right knee) and Stephan Van Treese (left knee) have not practiced this fall, while Mike Marra (back) is a week or two from rejoining the team. Peyton Siva, the team's starting point guard, is expected to play on Friday after sustaining a concussion on Oct. 27.
''We've struggled with leadership and Peyton's the most vocal,'' Pitino said. ''He's an energy guy. He brings it. Everybody has a different leadership style and when Peyton's around, just everything goes better.''
Siva said he finally began feeling better over the last few days and has been symptom free.
''It just rattled me up a little bit,'' Siva said. ''I've had practiced four times already and I felt pretty good out there playing and running. I feel really good now.''
Siva also said he's excited to help Pitino reach the 600-win milestone, but the coach himself is less enthused.
''I wish it was 200. That's what I wish rather than 600, because I'd be 33, 34,'' the 59-year-old Pitino said. ''It's just great to accomplish it at the University of Louisville, certainly, but it's like turning 50. Forty was more important.''
The milestone is coming earlier than expected.
Pitino had won 597 games and a national title over stops at Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville. But it was a 2-4 stretch credited to Pitino in 1976 after he took over Hawaii as an interim coach that will make him the 38th or 39th Division I coach to reach the 600-win plateau. Western Carolina's Larry Hunter also has a chance for the milestone win at South Carolina on Friday night.
''To be honest with you, I've never thought in terms of wins,'' Pitino said.
But if the Cardinals beat the Skyhawks, Pitino will reach 600 wins one game faster than longtime Louisville coach Denny Crum did.
''As quick as he can get there would be better for us,'' Siva said. ''Because, you know, when you win around this place, it's a better mood for everybody.''
AP freelance writer James Pennington contributed to this report from Lexington, Ky.