An hour ago, UK released its non-conference basketball schedule, which is much beefier than years past. Don’t get me wrong–Kentucky’s still got its share of cupcakes early on, but they can’t let themselves slack, or the end up puking in the long, hard stretch of December. Kentucky’s final six nonconference opponents finished in the RPI top 100 last year, and the final four opponents were in the top 50. Michigan State, UNC, Boise State and Louisville are all formidable foes that will test the Cats before they start their SEC stretch.
Also interesting is the creation of the Keightley Classic, which is, of course, named after the famous former equipment manager and Kentucky basketball icon. The classic will consist of four non-conference games highlighted by Robert Morris on November 17th. There truly is no mercy for the weak.
Let’s break down The Revenge Tour game by game, with a degree of difficulty scale (1 being the easiest, 10 being the hardest):
November 1 vs. Transylvania (Ex.)
The “Battle of Broadway” is always a crowd pleaser. Last year, Brian Lane’s team was only able to put up 28 points on the Cats, a number I’d say they’d be likely to surpass this season, but…yeah. Brandon Rash graduated, so I doubt we’ll see many more dunks from the Pioneers, but at least they can walk to the game, right? That’s always a fun time.
Degree of difficulty: 1
November 4 vs. Montevallo (Ex.)
The University of Montevallo is Alabama’s only public liberal arts college and their basketball team plays in Division II. The university used to be a girls-only technical school, but started admitting boys in 1956. It still has a 7:5 ratio of women to men. I doubt we’ll notice that on the basketball court. Actually, you’ll probably be too busy snoozing to notice anything.
Degree of difficulty: 0.ZzzzzZZZZZZzzzzzzz
November 8 vs. UNC-Asheville
Hey, it’s UNC-Asheville! Who doesn’t love Asheville? Such a beautiful mountain town. The Bulldogs have the pleasure of being UK’s home opener, which I’m sure they will relish. They’ve got a brand new coach in Nick McDevitt and compete in the Big South conference. The Bulldogs made the Tournament in 2003, 2011 and 2012. I hope they enjoy watching other teams dunk.
Degree of difficulty: 1.2
November 10 vs. Northern Kentucky
The Norse will travel to Rupp for the first time as a Division I program. Dave Bezoid is in his ninth year as the head coach, and during his tenure, he’s made the Norse one of the top Division II programs. I’m afraid Division I will look like a totally different creature when they come to Rupp. You know how I know Cal learned from last season? He scheduled two home games against easy opponents back to back to start the season, whereas the Cats opened last season with two straight neutral games against Maryland and Duke.
Degree of difficulty: 1.8
November 12 vs. Michigan State (United Center, Chicago IL)
Now the going gets tough. This will be Kentucky’s third straight year in the Champions Classic, and will be the first time the Cats have played the Spartans since the overtime thriller in the 2005 NCAA Tournament. Michigan State is in most analysts’ preseason Top Fives, and return all but one notable player from last season’s squad. This will be a very tall task for the young Cats.
Degree of difficulty: 8
November 17 vs. Robert Morris (Keightley Classic)
In case you’ve got a short memory or have blocked it out, Bobby Mo beat the Cats in the first round of the NIT this past season in a scene straight from Hoosiers…or for Kentucky fans, the worst horror movie imaginable. Kudos to the Cats for inviting them to play in Rupp, but that’s about where the goodwill ends. I have a feeling this game will be a little personal to Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer and the other veterans returning. It was going to be a beatdown anyways, but add in the bad memories and well, it will just be bloody.
Degree of difficulty: 1
November 19 vs. Texas-Arlington (Keightley Classic)
The Mavericks hail from the Western Athletic Conference and made the NCAA Tournament in 2008. That’s about all I can find about them. The good news for them? They can tell their kids one day that they played against the best team in college basketball history.
Degree of difficulty: 0.GoBuyAnotherSoftServe
November 25 vs. Cleveland State (Keightley Classic)
Cleveland State is a strong mid-major team that will keep the Cats in shape after a few cupcakes. The Vikings play in the Horizon League and managed to beat Wake Forest in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament before losing to Arizone in the second round. Not a threat, by any means, but far from a pushover.
Degree of difficulty: 4.5
November 27 vs. Eastern Michigan (Keightley Classic)
The Eagles lost to the Cats 90-38 last season, which means this year’s game will likely be even more lopsided. Regardless, it will be one more game at home for the team to gel before leaving for back-to-back road games.
Degree of difficulty: 2
December 1 vs. Providence (Barclays Center, Brooklyn NY)
This will be UK’s second neutral-site game of the season. Kentucky returns to the Barclays Center after beating Maryland there to open the season last year. That means that fans will get another fun trip to NYC, Drew Franklin will once again get to tend bar at Jack Demsey’s, and the team will get to ride in a bus down an elevator at the Barclays Center. A good time all around.
Degree of difficulty: 4
December 6 @ Baylor (Texas Stadium, Arlington TX)
Everything’s bigger in Texas, which means that fans who go to the Baylor/UK game will likely end up watching most of the game on Cowboys Stadium’s giant jumbotron. The game is half of a double-header that will feature games between the men’s and women’s teams against Baylor. Fortunately, Brittney Griner is gone. Cowboys Stadium is also home to the Final Four next season, so the team should make themselves as comfortable with their surroundings as possible.
Degree of difficulty: 6
December 10 vs. Boise State
The Cats come home to play Boise State, which is far from a pushover. The Broncos are ranked #25 in CBS’ Preseason Rankings, and pretty much beat the Cats out for the last spot in the NCAA Tournament last season. (Yes, get ready to hear that factoid a few more times.) They’re expected to return all but one starter, so the Cats can’t have a Texas-sized hangover if they expect to win by a decent margin.
Degree of difficulty: 5
December 14 @ North Carolina
WHAT UP CHAPEL HILL! It’s been far too long. The UK/UNC series took a brief hiatus, and it’s been almost ten years since this blogger’s been to the quiet pale blue confines of the Dean Dome. North Carolina will be good again this season, and possibly very good if Andrew Wiggins decides he wants to wear argyle for the next year. They return PJ Hairston, James Michale McAdoo, Marcus Paige and a few others, and will bring in Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt and Isaiah Hicks. Meeks has already proved to be a fan favorite, declaring that Kentucky won’t be able to have a perfect season because they’ll lose in Chapel Hill in December. We’ll see about that, oh portly one.
Degree of difficulty: 7.5 (largely dependent on Wiggins decision)
December 21 vs. Belmont
Ah, Belmont, the fresh-faced little darling from Nashville that made it to the second round of the Tournament. Belmont proved that they can play, winning 26 games last season in their first season in the OVC. This game is a bit personal for me, as Mr. TT is a Belmont alum, and for the first time since we met, may be cheering for a team other than Kentucky. We’ll manage, but someone get some extra hot dogs for Vince Gill, please.
December 28 vs. Louisville
“THE MAIN EVENT.” Kentucky and Louisville are both stacked next season, coming in at 1 and 2 in most preseason polls. We’ve talked ad nauseum about the game already, and it’s still seven and a half months away. Needless to say, the nation’s eyes will be on Lexington that day, and Kentucky will face its biggest challenge of the season. If everything goes according to plan, we may get a rematch in the Final Four.
Degree of difficulty: 9.5
Is it November yet?