Kentucky’s non-conference basketball schedule has plenty of interesting matchups, even though just one of them will be played at Rupp Arena.
The non-conference schedule has nine games at Rupp Arena, two on the road and two neutral games against Maryland and Duke to open the season. The 13 teams combined for a 249-187 record last season and five were in the NCAA Tournament. The 13 teams come from 11 different conferences.
Barclays Center Classic — the home of the Brooklyn Nets — on Nov. 9 against Maryland will be the first regular-season opener for UK away from Rupp Arena since the 2002-03 season. The Wildcats will then face another neutral site matchup when they go to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to play Duke on Nov. 13 as part of the Champions Classic. Last year UK¿beat Kansas in New York in the Champions Classic.
Kentucky and Duke have not met since 2001 and despite rumblings that the two schools have talked about annual series, it’s not likely to happen.
Kentucky has exhibition games Nov. 1 against Northwood, a NAIA power coached by former Villanova mentor Rollie Massimino, and Transylvania Nov. 5. It will be the second straight year UK¿has played Transy, which will be led by former Lincoln County standout Ethan Spurlin.
Rupp Arena season ticket holders will finally get to see a real game Nov. 16 when UK hosts Lafayette. Morehead and new coach Sean Woods come to Rupp on Nov. 21 and UK¿hosts Long Island University Nov. 23. All three games are a part of the Barclays Center Classic.
Coach John Calipari’s team will go to Notre Dame — UK¿last played there in Billy Gillispie’s final game as UK’s coach to end the 2008-09 season — on Nov. 29 in the SEC/Big East Challenge. After that, it is back home for five straight games — Baylor (Dec. 1), Samford (Dec. 4), Portland (Dec. 8), Lipscomb (Dec. 15) and Marshall (Dec. 22).
Kentucky goes to Louisville Dec. 29 to play Rick¿Pitino’s Cardinals and ends the non-conference season with a home game against Eastern Michigan Jan. 2.
When Southeastern Conferenc play begins Jan. 8-10, UK¿will have nine more home games and nine away games to test Calipari’s freshman-dominated team.
While the non-conference schedule is certainly potent with Maryland, Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville and Baylor, only one of those games will be in Rupp Arena. After raising ticket and donation prices for men’s basketball following the national championship season, some Big Blue fans likely are going to grumble about the home schedule that features five teams that had losing records last season.
Kentucky dropped series with North Carolina and Indiana. The Hoosiers had been on the schedule annually since 1969 and UK¿had played North Carolina the last 12 years.
Louisville could go into the season ranked No. 1 and lost to UK¿in the Final Four last season. Kentucky beat Baylor 82-70 in the NCAA and will be a marquee opponent in Rupp Arena. Duke will be a testy matchup in Atlanta. So will Notre Dame in South Bend. Maryland is far from a gimme to open the season.
Remember, this will be Calipari’s youngest team and the cupcake home schedule excluding Baylor is designed to let the Cats build confidence before SEC play. If UK¿went 2-2 in its four games away from Rupp, it could still be 11-2 entering SEC play and likely a top 10 team. If it went 3-1, it could be 12-1 and probably a top five team.
However, if the Cats stumble against Maryland and Duke to open the season, Calipari’s young team could struggle. That’s why the coach wanted a softer home schedule this year even if UK¿fans are going to be paying a lot more to see it.
Kentucky’s season officially opens with Big Blue Madness on Oct. 12 at Rupp Arena. The Blue-White Game will be Oct. 24.