What is the right way to ensure a team of 10 freshmen is prepared for the rigors of a Big East season?

Why, adding Kentucky to a non-conference schedule that includes Duke and UCLA, of course.

St. John’s will play Kentucky at Rupp Arena as part of ESPN’s Big East-SEC Challenge, the network announced Thursday. St. John’s last visited Rupp in the 1985 Final Four and last played Kentucky in the iconic venue December 17, 1977. St. John’s is 5-10 all-time against the Wildcats. The Red Storm won the last game between the historically significant programs, 62-61 at the Coaches vs. Cancer in November 2000.

St. John’s will also participate in the 2K Sports Classic along with Arizona, Texas A&M and Mississippi State.

“It is a unique opportunity for St. John’s to have a non-conference schedule that includes matchups against three of the most-storied programs in the history of college basketball in Kentucky, UCLA and Duke. Facing UK at Rupp Arena in front of a raucous crowd will be a valuable experience in preparation for Big East Conference play. Coupled with our conference slate and our participation in the 2K Sports Classic, this diverse and rigorous schedule will present an outstanding challenge for the youngest team in the country,” Steve Lavin said in a statement released by the school.

The 2010-11 season was a transformational one for St. John’s, which reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. Lavin guided the senior-laden squad to a 21-12 record which included wins over Top 25 programs Georgetown, Duke, Notre Dame, UConn, Pittsburgh and Villanova.

Heading into 2011-12, the only returnee is junior guard Malik Stith. The school announced Sunday that sophomore forward Dwayne Polee was transferring due to a “health issue” with his family. Polee averaged 4.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 45.6 percent shooting, 14.9 minutes and played in all 33 games. He started 27.

Lavin’s recruiting class is ranked third in the nation. A finalist for National Coach of the Year, Lavin was signed Queens product Maurice Harkless, Chicago prep point guard Phil Greene, Amir Garrett, D’Angelo Harrison, Norvel Pelle, Sir’Dominic Pointer, Jakarr Samspon, Nurideen Lindsey and JUCO transfer God’s Gift Achiuwan. Achiuwan finished last season averaging 22.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game for Erie (NY) Community College. He will be expected to provide a post presence, offensively and defensively, for a team that looks to be heavily wing-oriented.