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No. 12 Kentucky hosts Penn in the first round of the Preseason NIT. Let the games begin. The date that Penn men's basketball fans have had circled on their calendars for months has finally arrived. At 9 p.m. tonight, the defending Ivy League champions kick off their 1999-2000 season at Kentucky in the first round of the preseason National Invitation Tournament. If the Quakers win, they will travel to Utah to play the Utes on Friday night. Utah routed Arkansas State, 76-43, last night. For the second consecutive year the Red and Blue open their season against a nationally ranked team. Last year, Penn began its 21-6 campaign with a 61-56 home loss to then-No. 8 Kansas. Tonight, the Quakers' opponent is Kentucky, which is ranked No. 12 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and No. 14 in the Associated Press poll. "I think it's great for [us]," Penn senior center Geoff Owens said. "When we play a close game late in the year, we're prepared because we played five or six tough games in the beginning of the year." Kentucky has lived up to its reputation as a national powerhouse in recent years, winning two of the last four NCAA Championships. Normally, the Wildcats are among the top five or 10 teams in the nation in preseason polls but some voters are skeptical as the Wildcats only return one starter from the team that last year lost to Michigan State in the Regional Finals of the NCAA Tournament. Penn, on the other hand, returns three starters -- Owens and the senior backcourt of Michael Jordan and Matt Langel. The Quakers' edge in experience may play a large role, considering tonight's game is the season's first for both teams. "It will be a good test for us," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "It is a home game and I think that helps us. Every game is a dangerous game but as an opener, I would think their experience and veteran play would give them the edge." While fans may be surprised to hear Smith heap such praise on the opponents, Penn's experience may come in handy when it comes to not getting frustrated by Kentucky's full-court press. "We're going to hopefully handle the pressure by not turning the ball over," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "We need to get the ball in bounds first and then make real good decisions as we bring the ball up the floor." Penn's starters, the first five Quakers to deal with that press, will most likely be Owens, Jordan, Langel, senior forward Frank Brown and Oggie Kapetanovic, a 6'10" forward/center who sat out last season after transferring from Brown. Along with Kapetanovic, the Red and Blue have six additional new faces on this year's squad. Highly touted freshman forward Ugonna Onyekwe and classmate Koko Archibong, also a forward, should get a significant amount of minutes off the bench as Penn tries to fill the holes left by the graduation of forwards Paul Romanczuk and Jed Ryan. "How many minutes are [the freshman] going to get?" Dunphy said. "I have no idea. When they do get in there, if they play well they are going to stay in there, and if they don't we'll make some substitutions." A freshman who may get some minutes at both the guard and forward positions is Duane King. King, a Louisville, Ky., native, has played on Rupp's hardwood before. "I played my last high school game in that arena," King said. "I played five games there over my high school years because we had our state tournament there." Although King has never attended a Wildcats game there, he has played in front of over 20,000 people at Rupp Arena and expects the crowd noise will be a huge factor. Crowd aside, Penn will still have to overcome a more tangible force in Kentucky center Jamaal Magloire. The 6'10" senior led the Wildcats in blocks last year with 66 and averaged 7.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in just 19.6 minutes per game. "He's a terrific basketball player," Dunphy said. "In the two preseason games that we saw on film, I thought he did a great job posting up inside. He seals his man as good as anybody we've played against. [Stopping him] will be a real tough chore for us, but hopefully we'll be ready." Although Kapetanovic has played against fellow Ontario native Magloire, the chore of defending the Kentucky senior belongs to Owens. "I know I have to be a factor for our team to win," Owens said. "Even if I give up a few shots early, if I can stay in the game and get it back on offense, that's going to make us that much better." While Penn will focus on beating Kentucky's press and neutralizing Magloire, Kentucky is worried about the matchup in the backcourt. The Wildcats backcourt is anchored by junior point guard Saul Smith, son of Tubby Smith. Smith and sophomore guard Desmond Allison, the Wildcats' sole returning starter, will try to prevent Jordan from generating offense and also take away open looks for Langel and Jordan on the perimeter. "Pennsylvania has one of the better backcourts in the nation," Saul Smith said. "I think the depth of our backcourt will play a factor in the game. We want to come out, play a fast-paced game and wear them down. We want to run as many guys as possible at Michael Jordan and make it hard for him to score." But as much as the Kentucky hoopsters claim to know about Penn, they still made the typical first-time comments regarding the Quakers and their star point guard, MJ. "I'm looking forward to facing Michael Jordan," Saul Smith said. "I've only met the Michael Jordan that played for the Chicago Bulls, and he was pretty good." Although the Red and Blue will not have the future NBA Hall of Famer on their side, the Quakers are confident that, unlike last year, they can open the season with a win against one of the most prestigious college basketball programs in the country. "I think we've got a great chance," Owens said. "We've really scouted them well. We know they're a young team and they are going to pressure a lot, so if we can handle their pressure and shut down their inside game, we'll be in great shape to win the game."

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