There’s nothing I hate more than forcing a nickname upon a team just for the sake of doing so. For example, a number of possibilities were thrown out for this past season’s Kentucky basketball team, to enshrine their name among some of the great teams for winning a national title. None of the names really stuck for me though. The choices weren’t obvious, like the team that became known as the “Comeback Cats,” or the “Unforgettables,” or “Rupp’s Runts.” A few of the options were okay, but nothing felt entirely appropriate.
After looking at this year’s men’s basketball schedule, one distinct fact continues to pop out at me: the road games are tough. To be even more specific, the games away from Rupp Arena in general are tough– away and neutral both included. Not only are the games away from Rupp some of the toughest of the season, but many of the games come very early on the schedule. Now, I’m not trying to force a nickname upon this team. Again, I repeat, I really don’t like when people do that. I’m simply stating the obvious that the team’s overall success on the season will greatly hinge on how they are able to perform in some very challenging tasks on the road, especially for a young team. If this team is able to complete a successful season, they will have been “road warriors,” whether the nickname sticks or not.
Consider the evidence… Here are a few of the notable games away from Rupp Arena:
Maryland (in New York)
Duke (in Georgia)
Notre Dame (away)
Texas A&M (away)
Some of these games may not necessarily stick out as being incredibly difficult, but consider the youth on this Kentucky team and then considering the following:
– The Maryland, Duke, Notre Dame and Louisville games all come before January 1st. Those are 4 formidable BCS opponents before many of the Kentucky freshmen have even had a chance to work out the kinks of getting used to a new system and a new set of teammates.
– Louisville is a pre-season Top 3 team, on the road.
– Vanderbilt will be down this year, but the unique arena is always a challenge for any visiting opponent. The game being the very first SEC game of the season is also a built-in challenge.
– Alabama could be a sleeper team this season and usually puts up a good fight at home.
– Texas A&M isn’t necessarily the toughest opponent on paper, but this will be the first time Kentucky has played at this visiting team’s arena. There will be no reference point as far as what to expect, and I would be willing to bet that the new SEC members will be itching at the chance to play a big-time opponent like Kentucky for the first time at home. I would put my money on this game being an automatic sell-out for Texas A&M.
– Florida and Tennessee have very good home game environments and the rivalry between Kentucky and the two schools has been very strong over the past few years.
Will this young Kentucky team be able to handle the early non-conference challenges on courts other than Rupp Arena? Will the SEC away schedule be as difficult to navigate as it was 2 years ago with the Brandon Knight Kentucky team? Only time will tell, but if they are able to win the majority of these games… whether we dub them with the nickname officially or not, they will be road warriors.