HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall men's basketball team's Wednesday night win over Savannah State was still fresh, but senior forward Dennis Tinnon could barely contain his excitement for the next game.
When that game is at Rupp Arena against the storied Kentucky Wildcats, that enthusiasm is tough to restrain.
"It's going to be a great feeling just go to Rupp Arena and play in that type of environment," Tinnon said as he bounced up and down in anticipation. "That's one of the toughest places to play in."
The Thundering Herd (7-5) will know that feeling firsthand Saturday at 4 p.m. The ESPN2-broadcast contest is the highest-profile game left on Marshall's schedule. Perform well versus the Wildcats, and that's momentum the Herd can take with it through an extended winter break. After Saturday, Marshall doesn't play again until it hosts Delaware State on Jan. 2.
Beyond the Big Blue atmosphere, Marshall's players know what awaits them - a Wildcats team stacked with blue-chippers trying to gain some momentum of their own. Tinnon said the Herd understands what it will take to succeed in Lexington.
"We have to prepare like we've never prepared before," he said. "When we come into practice, we know we have to be focused. You've got to have your eyes and ears open and be focused the whole practice."
It doesn't dampen the Herd's spirit that the Wildcats (7-3) have struggled this year, at least by UK standards. The defending NCAA champions, Kentucky began the season ranked third, despite losing its top six scorers from 2011-12. Coach John Calipari signed a standout freshman class, led by 6-foot-10 center Nerlens Noel, 6-foot-4 guard Archie Goodwin and 6-foot-7 forward Alex Poythress.
Yet back-to-back losses to unranked foes Notre Dame and Baylor sent Kentucky tumbling from No. 8 in the country to out of the Associated Press Top 25 altogether. It was the most precipitous one-week fall in poll history and snapped a streak of 61 straight weeks in the AP Top 25. The Wildcats responded with wins over Samford, Portland and Lipscomb by an average margin of 32.7 points.
That's the Kentucky team Marshall expects to see, and the Herd knows its energy level must jump from its last few games.