St. John's is scheduled to travel to Rupp Arena for the first time since the 1985 Final Four to meet Kentucky on Dec. 1 as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge televised by the ESPN family of networks, the Red Storm announced Thursday afternoon.
It's the first meeting between two of the winningest programs in college history since St. John's scored a season-opening win over the Wildcats on Nov. 9, 2000, at Madison Square Garden.
St. John's, which is seventh on the all-time wins list with 1,724 victories, is 5-10 against Kentucky, the all-time wins leader with 2,052. More importantly within the context of current events, the game will match coach John Calipari's No. 1-rated recruiting class against coach Steve Lavin's No. 3-rated recruits. The game also adds another layer of difficulty to the schedule Lavin's freshmen-dominated team will face.
"It is a unique opportunity for St. John’s to have a non-conference schedule that includes matchups against three of the most-storied programs in the history of college basketball in Kentucky, UCLA and Duke,” Lavin said in a statement. "Facing UK at Rupp Arena in front of a raucous crowd will be a valuable experience in preparation for Big East play. Coupled with our conference slate and our participation in the 2K Sports Classic, this diverse and rigorous schedule will present an outstanding challenge for the youngest team in the country."
Lavin was referring to St. John's previously announced role as one of four regional hosts for the 12-team 2K Sports Classic along with Arizona, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. After regional games from Nov. 7-11, the four regional hosts advance to the semifinals and finals on Nov. 17-18 at the Garden. It's a brutal schedule for a St. John's team that has only two returning players and at least nine newcomers, including seven freshmen and two junior college transfers.
Kentucky's Calipari is used to coaching young teams, having sent five players to the NBA a year ago, including two freshmen, and then having to replace freshman point guard Brandon Knight and junior forward DeAndre Liggins this spring following their departure to the pros. When he was in New York for last Sunday's Yankees-Red Sox game, Calipari was asked what advice he might offer Lavin about coaching such a young team.
"I've had freshmen all the time," Calipari said. "You've got to be patient. You've got to figure out how you're going to play and not get locked into one system because you don't know until they get out there. Don't spend a whole lot of time in the preseason deciding how you're going to play because it will change as the year goes on. But he'll do a great job."