LEXINGTON, Ky. -- When Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson set about preparing his team to face No. 2 Kentucky on Friday night, he skipped the gymnasium and headed straight to a home improvement store.
"We may be the only college basketball team that's going through the landscaping aisle at Lowe's to help us be a better team," Hinson said. "But you do what you can."
The coach, who has spent weeks preparing SIU to combat Kentucky's front line that goes 6-11, 6-10, 6-8 and 6-8, purchased a giant leaf rake.
"We're not going to face anybody like Kentucky in our league or for the rest of the entire season. We might see one guy, but we won't see multiple lines like that," Hinson said. "So I brought the biggest rake I could buy at Lowe's.
"It's the best way for us to simulate it because we don't have those guys," Hinson said. "It's been one and a half feet above our rim for the last seven weeks so hopefully it will help us prepare for this."
Hinson may be exaggerating the dilemma a bit -- 6-10 Kavion Pippen, Scottie's nephew, is one of five starters returning and three reserves are either 6-8 or 6-9 -- but it is a fun approach to a monumental task.
It's the season opener for Southern Illinois while Kentucky is 0-1 after being demolished on national television 118-84 by Duke in the Champions Classic on Tuesday.
Hinson fears SIU is about to bear the brunt of that loss.
"When we run out on the floor Friday night in front of 23,500 people, I promise you the guys in the white jerseys will be ready to go. I know that for a fact," Hinson said. "I've known Coach John Calipari since 1985 and I can tell you I know exactly what's happening in that locker room and what's going to happen on the practice floor. We know we're going to have to hit the wave right off the bat and we're going to have to withstand that push."
Calipari can only hope his Kentucky club responds that way after the beatdown in Indianapolis.
"Duke played with a chip," Calipari said Thursday. "They were gonna show us they were better and each individual player was gonna show our players they were better. And maybe their coach was showing me he was better. But they all had a chip on their shoulder. That's us. My whole career that's what it's been about. Did we get arrogant, all of us, me included? I don't know. We're gonna find out."
Kentucky has a balanced and deep roster. Graduate transfer Reid Travis, who scored 22 against Duke, is joined by sophomores PJ Washington, Nick Richards and Quade Green and freshmen Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley.
"We gotta get five guys who will fight like heck and leave them in and play them as long as they can play," Calipari said. "Find those five who will fight together and play together and leave them in and then the rest of you will sub in when they need a break."
Southern Illinois returns five starters from a 20-win team, including leading scorers Armon Flether, 14.1 points; Sean Lloyd, 12.1; Pippen, 12.1; and Aaron Cook, 9.8. SIU also gets 6-8 Thik Bol back after missing last season to injury.
"We're playing an opponent, Southern Illinois, that brings back their four leading scorers," Calipari said. "They've got inside players that can really play. They shoot the ball well. A team that can beat us if we don't play harder than they play. If we lose, we move on to the next game."
"Our game plan is pretty simple for us," Hinson said. "We've got to go in there and just do what we've worked on execute that as best as possible. We're going in there to play the all-time winningest program in college basketball and I'm trying to keep this game as simple as I can with our players. I'm trying to keep the least amount of pressure off these guys as I can. The worst thing we can do sometimes as coaches is to add to the heap. There is enough build-up with this thing as there is."