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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Sizing up our Non-Conference Opponents

With recent news of the Wear twins gone to UCLA, but the Tar Heels getting Justin Knox in from Alabama, it got me thinking about next year’s non-conference slate.  Without breaking down the Maui opponents, because we don’t know who the Cats would be playing, we can look at some of our major rivals and see if the Cats might make a clean sweep of them again this season.

INDIANA (Last season: 10-21, lost to Kentucky 90-73)

Probable Starters (returning starters in bold) 
Tom Pritchard
(JR, 4.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
Christian Watford (SO, 12.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
Maurice Creek (SO, 16.4 ppg, 52.7% FG)
Verdell Jones III (JR, 14.9 ppg, 3.4 apg)
Jeremiah Rivers (SR, 6.0 ppg, 3.4 apg)

Key Reserves: Jordan Hulls (SO, 6.4 ppg), Derek Elston (SO, 5.8 ppg), Will Sheehey (FR, #45 SF)

Outlook: With the game being in Rupp Arena this season, it’s unlikely Indiana can win.  BUT, the Hoosiers do have the experience, returning 7 of their top 8 scorers.  They are thin on the frontline, but the return of Maurice Creek should at least put Indiana at the .500 mark this season.  Plus, there is some heat on Tom Crean in Bloomington now, so maybe the team steps it up in his 3rd year.  I think this game is borderline dangerous, depending on how the young Cats develop in the early season, but there is still a fairly large talent gap between IU and UK, and Kentucky should pull this one out by double digits.

EARLY PREDICTION: KENTUCKY 79-67

NORTH CAROLINA (20-17, lost to Kentucky 68-66)

Probable Starters (returning starters in bold)
Tyler Zeller (JR, 9.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
John Henson (SO, 5.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Harrison Barnes (FR, #1 SF)
Will Graves (SR, 9.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Larry Drew III (JR, 8.5 ppg, 5.9 apg)

Key Reserves: Dexter Strickland (SO, 5.4 ppg), Reggie Bullock (FR, #2 SG), Justin Knox (SR, transfer)

Outlook: It’s hard to predict just how good this year’s Tar Heel team will be because they have a plethora of questions.  Just how good Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock are, will transfer Justin Knox have an impact, has Tyler Zeller recovered from his injury, can Larry Drew improve his turnovers and truly lead this team.  One thing you do know about UNC is they are talented, as always.  Barnes was rated the top player in the country, so if he has anything of a typical top recruit season, I would expect the Tar Heels to be much better than last year.  Remember, even with that average team last year, they still only lost by 2 in Rupp.  I think this game is going to be tough for the Cats to win this year.  In the Dean Dome, against an improved Tar Heel team, and UK still working out the kinks, I think (but don’t hope) the Cats lose a close one.

EARLY PREDICTION: UNC 71-70

LOUISVILLE (20-13, lost to Kentucky 71-62)

Probable Starters (returning starters in bold)
Terrence Jennings (JR, 5.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Jared Swopshire (JR, 7.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Kyle Kuric (JR, 4.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
Preston Knowles (SR, 7.2 ppg, 29.2% 3P)
Peyton Siva (SO, 3.9 ppg, 1.8 apg)

Key Reserves: Rakeem Buckles (SO, 3.8 ppg), Justin Coleman (FR, #7 SF), Gorgui Deng (FR, #11 C)

Outlook: Frankly, it has been probably 20 years since there has been this much of a talent gap between UK and UL.  The Cards return just one starter off a 13 loss team, and that starter is Jared Swopshire, not exactly a confidence grabbing player.  Unless Peyton Siva turns into Steve Nash out there, I don’t see the Cards being very good this year.  What always throws a red flag up in my head is when you can not pinpoint one thing that is a strength for a team.  What is UL’s strength this season?  I have no clue.  The game is in the new UL arena, which may give them 4-5 points, but that won’t be nearly enough. 

EARLY PREDICTION: Kentucky 80-65

NOTRE DAME (23-12, did not play Kentucky last season)

Probable Starters (returning starters in bold)
Carelton Scott (SR, 5.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Tim Abromaitis (SR, 16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Tyrone Nash (SR, 7.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Jerian Grant (FR, #40 SG)
Joey Brooks (SO, 2.0 ppg)

Key Reserves: No idea

Outlook: Much like Louisville, Notre Dame just doesn’t have the talent that Kentucky will have this season.  They lost 3 senior starters, including Luke Harangody.  Tim Abromaitis is an All-Big East caliber player, but beyond that, they don’t have much.  They brought in a decent recruiting class, which should help some, but let’s not forget Kentucky brought in a decent class too.  I think as long as Abromaitis is kept in check, the Cats should romp in this one.

EARLY PREDICTION: Kentucky 85-67

Article written by Bryan the Intern