Kentucky’s non-conference schedule has highlights, lacks depth
Kentucky announced their non-conference schedule on Monday afternoon, and there are four -- maybe five -- games that are going to have the potential to be instant classics.
The Wildcats get Michigan State in New York for the Champions Classic on the fourth day of the season, which is typically the best night of basketball during the first two months of the season. Then, in December, the Wildcats play UNC in Las Vegas, Louisville in the Yum! Center and Kansas in Rupp Arena.
That’s four teams right there that will enter the season as consensus top 15 teams, and that’s before you factor in a home date with UCLA. The Bruins with 15-17 last season, but they have the talent and the potential to finish the year as a top ten team. (They could also end up being a complete disaster, but that’s another topic for another day.)
So on the surface, this schedule looks better than the one that Duke released last week. We criticized Duke’s schedule, but if we’re being honest here, the only real difference between Duke’s schedule and Kentucky’s schedule is that the Blue Devils had the bad luck of drawing Florida as they’re reloading in the post-Billy Donovan years and scheduling UNLV one year after that program self-destructed.
To their credit, Kentucky schedules home-and-homes. Their rivalry with Louisville is played annually and takes place in either Rupp Arena or the Yum! Center every year. The Wildcats also have a home-and-home with UCLA, which is at home this year after Kentucky took an L at Pauley Pavilion last season, and have played similar series against programs like North Carolina and Indiana during John Calipari’s tenure. Technically speaking, the game against Kansas is also a home-and-home, although they cannot get full credit for that since it is part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
But the major issues with college basketball scheduling is still evident here. Every Kentucky fan in the world is going to watch all 13 of these games -- that’s how BBN does -- but there are just five games that Kentucky will play during the first two months of the season that are truly worth watching.
Yes, Stephen F. Austin, Hofstra and Valparaiso are quality mid-major programs, and yes, Arizona State is a Pac-12 program with hopes of getting to the NCAA tournament, but those are games that a Kentucky team picked by many to be the best non-Duke team in the country should be able to roll through.
There’s a reason that this happens (I detailed it in this column) and it’s not entirely Kentucky’s fault.
But it is a problem for the sport when a schedule like this is going to get lauded.
Because as good as the good games are going to be, Kentucky will be favored by at least double figures -- if not 25 points -- in eight of the 13 games.
Anyway, here is the full schedule:
Nov. 11: Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 13: Canisius
Nov. 15 vs. Michigan State (New York, Champions Classic)
Nov. 20: Duquesne
Nov. 23: Cleveland State
Nov. 25: UT Martin
Nov. 28: vs. Arizona State (Bahamas)
Dec. 1: vs. Hofstra (Brooklyn)
Dec. 3: UCLA
Dec. 7: Valparaiso
Dec. 17: vs. North Carolina (Las Vegas, CBS Sports Classic)
Dec. 21: at Louisville
Jan. 28: Kansas (Big 12/SEC Challenge)