There's no question tonight's game at 13th-ranked Kentucky represents the best opponent Winthrop will see in this regular season.
Kentucky (8-2) is one of the least experienced teams in the country, and one of the most talented. The team is young because five players off last season's NCAA Elite Eight squad were drafted in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft.
But don't feel too bad for Kentucky. Coach John Calipari has restocked the team with point guard Brandon Knight and forward Terrence Jones, both freshmen, leading the way. Another freshman guard, Doron Lamb, is a key reserve.
Knight was named to the 2011 Bob Cousy Award list of candidates for the nation's top point guard this week. He averages 17.1 points and 3.7 assists per game. Jones, a 6-foot-8 forward, is scoring almost 19 points a game to go with 10 rebounds. Lamb hasn't started a game but scores 12.4 points per contest.
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The Wildcats' two losses have come against unranked opponents. They lost by 17 in Hawaii to Connecticut. Kemba Walker scored 29 points as the Huskies shot almost 58 percent from the floor. Kentucky lost 75-73 at North Carolina when Tyler Zeller poured in a career-high 27 points for the Tar Heels.
Here is the question for Winthrop: Can the Eagles keep this game close?
Several statistics suggest that won't happen.
Winthrop (5-6) has lost its last three games against ranked opponents - 102-66 at No. 22 Clemson in November 2009, 97-70 at No. 21 Davidson in November 2008 and 71-40 in the 2008 NCAA tournament against No. 21 Washington State.
Forward George Valentine, the Eagles' best post defender and arguably the one player the team cannot afford to lose, is banged up. He played 24 minutes in a 15-point loss at Dayton on Monday night. He came into the game averaging eight points and eight rebounds but failed to score and got just one rebound at Dayton.
The Flyers took advantage of Valentine's ineffectiveness and won the rebounding battle 46-28.
Winthrop coach Randy Peele said after the game that his team can compete with high-major programs, but they have to rebound the ball.
"If you can rebound even, you've got a chance to win," Peele said. "If you can outrebound you've really got a chance, but if you don't rebound even with high-major schools you're going to struggle."
Valentine wasn't expected to practice Tuesday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky has ripped three non-conference opponents at (or close to) home this season. The Wildcats beat East Tennessee State by 23 in their season opener; whipped Boston University by 34 and breezed past Mississippi Valley State by 25 on Saturday night in Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky.
Calipari doesn't take any non-conference game lightly, though. He was ejected from Saturday's game. With 6:44 left, official Mike Stuart hit Calipari with a technical foul. The coach argued a call that didn't go his way. Then, 18 seconds later, another technical foul was called and the coach's night was done.
"Got to be ready for a tough Winthrop team that will give us all we can handle on Wednesday," Calipari said via Twitter on Monday.
The Eagles have beaten two nationally ranked teams. The last one came in Peele's first season as head coach in 2007. Winthrop played in a holiday tournament in South Florida and defeated No. 19 Miami, 79-70, on a neutral court.
The other Top 25 win was the program's signature victory, a 74-64 final over No. 17 Notre Dame in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament in Spokane, Wash.