With Arkansas-Little Rock now in the rearview mirror, the Southeastern Conference season is finally upon us. Kentucky opens conference play with a game against the South Carolina Gamecocks (8-6) on Saturday at 4 p.m. in Rupp Arena. John Calipari joined the SEC's weekly coaches' teleconference Monday to discuss the challenges of the SEC, the Wildcats' game against South Carolina and a few other topics. Here are some notes and quotes.
- Calipari opened his comments by saying that every SEC team will deal with a step up in level of competition. UK has faced top teams, tough road environments and close games, but the familiarity and talent in the SEC makes conference play difficult, as always. "It's going to change for all of us," Calipari said. "The toughness of play, the intensity of play, the buildings will be full, the talent level, the coaching, it's all going to elevate for all of us. I'm anxious to see how my team responds."
- It all starts with South Carolina, a team Calipari said is "tough" and will take the floor in Rupp "with a little bit of swagger." The swagger is based on strong performances of late, as the Gamecocks have won six of seven games with the only loss coming to then-No. 1 Ohio State. South Carolina lost that game by a score of just 74-66 and led by with under 16 minutes remaining. Calipari expects the conference opener to be a good measuring stick for how the Wildcats have bounced back from recent subpar performances. "Our last game and really a couple games, we haven't been up to where we need to be to get in our league and play well so I'm anxious to see," Calipari said.
- Calipari was asked about his philosophy in working officials from the sideline during games. The question comes at an interesting time, as he has picked up a pair of technical fouls this season after rarely doing so in recent seasons. He said his goal isn't to try to coax the officials to call the game in his team's favor. Instead, he wants balance. "I don't think you're trying to get calls," Calipari said. "You're just trying to make sure the game is called evenly." Calipari went on to praise officiating in the SEC, praising the way the league supervises officials and is training more and more young referees to keep up with the pace of play.
- Freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist visited doctors this morning about an injury Calipari speculated last night was a muscle strain in his chest. However, Calipari does not yet have an update on his status. "The doctors looked at him this morning and I haven't talked to them yet," Calipari said.
- Calipari was also asked about the SEC's addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. He didn't say anything you probably haven't already heard, but he did make sure to point out how much stronger the moves make the conference, and not just in men's basketball. "With what we've added, obviously football, baseball, women's basketball, men's basketball, you just added two top-20 teams," Calipari said. "... We've just gotten stronger." Calipari guessed the league schedule will eventually increase from 16 to 18 games, though he is not in favor of that. He wants to protect as many nonconference games as possible because of how valuable home games are to basketball and the athletic department as a whole, although he said it would be "fine" even if the schedule does go to 18 games. "We (have to) make decisions about our schedule and how we're going to do this without overloading our players or putting the program in jeopardy," Calipari said.
- As for another scheduling decision to be made, Calipari talked about the future of UK's annual game in Louisville. It hasn't happened yet, but Calipari said he and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart will eventually sit down and talk it over. "Mitch will probably discuss that with me at some point looking at right what's right for this program," Calipari said.
- South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn was also on the teleconference and he had high praise for the Wildcats, saying Calipari may have the most talented team of his three years at UK. He had particularly good things to say about the Kentucky defense and the role freshman forward Anthony Davis plays in it. "Davis is a complete game-changer," Horn said. "A big challenge for anybody who plays them is handling their defensive presence."