NJIT-Kentucky Preview

According to coach John Calipari, Kentucky is a work in progress.

It only took one game for him to see areas of concern.

The new-look Wildcats go for a more complete performance as they try to avoid a letdown against upset-minded NJIT on Saturday night in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at Rupp Arena.

With six freshmen on the roster, Calipari figured it was going to be difficult to recreate last season's 38-0 run before Kentucky lost to Wisconsin in the Final Four.

The Wildcats did get this season off to a positive start Friday, beating Albany 78-65 while shooting 56.0 percent from the floor and holding a 34-28 rebounding advantage.

Calipari, however, wasn't happy that his team committed 20 turnovers, with guards Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis accounting for 10.

"You've got to have grit, toughness and fight when you get somebody down and just put them away," Calipari said. "We're not there yet."

Murray, a likely one-and-done recruit, was terrific offensively with game highs of 19 points and eight assists while shooting 8 of 15.

"I felt comfortable on the court," said Murray, who also added three steals.

That also seemed to be the case for fellow freshman Skal Labissiere, who had nine points, five rebounds and four blocks against the Great Danes. However, he also had three turnovers.

Taking better care of the ball will be important against an NJIT team that is looking to build on its best season since moving to Division I in 2006. The Highlanders finished 21-12 last season, which ended with a loss at Northern Arizona in the semifinals of the CIT.

They also claimed the program's first signature win, stunning No. 17 Michigan 72-70 in Ann Arbor on Dec. 6. The victory propelled NJIT into the national spotlight as the only Division I independent, but it doesn't carry that status any longer as the Highlanders enter their first season in the Atlantic Sun.

"Last year, the Michigan game was crucial for us. It put NJIT on the map," guard Rob Ukawuba told the team's official website. "I think now people kind of want to watch this Kentucky game to see if we can pull that off again."

NJIT has Damon Lynn back after he led the team with 17.5 points per game last season. The junior will be joined in the backcourt by Winfield Willis, who averaged 12.2 points and hit a team-best 43.7 percent from 3-point range.

Coach Jim Engles is back for his eighth season.

"We've played a lot of Big East schools, but playing Kentucky and playing John Calipari, who is a Hall of Fame coach. They're in the paper all the time. They're on the internet all the time. They're a constant presence in college basketball," Engles said. "It's going to be really fun to see how we can challenge ourselves in going into Rupp Arena. I've never been there. It should be fun to see how we can challenge ourselves against a team of such stature."

Kentucky has won 25 straight at home against nonconference opponents since a loss to Baylor on Dec. 1, 2012.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.