Wildcat in UNC blue? 2/10.
I think we’ve known for a while that the loathing engendered by the I-64 rivalry has at least caught, and at most far surpassed that on Tobacco Road. While UNC and Duke fans dislike, even hate each other, they don’t have old people getting in fist fights the week of their games. At least, none that have made national news. Plus, those two are in the same conference, so they don’t get to be included in any list of “best non-conference games” anyway.
But with the Bluegrass Bloodbath getting more and more attention every year, it’s no surprise that Mike Huguenin of Rivals.com has decided that the December iteration of the rivalry is next season’s most anticipated non-con game.
1. Kentucky at Louisville, Dec. 29
Buzz: As if the in-state bragging rights weren’t enough, this one could be for No. 1 in the polls. Truthfully, the polls don’t mean anything. But those in-state bragging rights? They’re the gift that keeps annoying your neighbor for 364 days. The sniping from the coaches in the week before the game will make this even more fun.
I think he’s a little confused as to the bragging rights, though. Even if Louisville wins that game (it’ll be Calipari’s first loss to Pitino while at UK), I think this past season’s Final Four game, and subsequent championship, have given us those rights for at least a good five years. But still, he’s correct in saying that the number one spot could be on the line. Sure, the rankings “don’t mean anything,” but we love seeing “1 Kentucky” on the scoreboard during games. It makes everything feel right in the world.
The circumstances are actually fairly similar to this past season’s matchup with North Carolina, where both teams were expected to be 1 and 2 heading into the game. The hype for that game was unreal, even though UNC faltered a bit and cost the papers that headline. Imagine what it would be like to recreate that scenario, but replace the Tarheels with the filthy cards. While it wouldn’t match the Final Four game in intensity (nothing for the next decade will, most likely), it would certainly be something to get excited about in December.
But, for all the talk about the “weakened” non-conference schedule this year, with UNC and Indiana not in their accustomed spots, Huguenin includes two other UK games in the top-12 list.
4. Duke vs. Kentucky in Atlanta, Nov. 13
Buzz: Admit it — any time these teams get together on a basketball court, it’s a must-watch game. Even if this doesn’t seem as if it will be a vintage Duke team, the Blue Devils should have enough firepower to make things interesting. Plus, this is early enough in the season that it’s possible UK players still will be getting acclimated to each other.
8. Kentucky at Notre Dame, Nov. 29
Buzz: Kentucky isn’t playing Indiana this season, so this game against a different Indiana-based school will have to suffice. Winning at Notre Dame isn’t easy, and the Irish — who lose only one key player — are a talented bunch sure to get physical with the Wildcats.
The Duke matchup isn’t surprising, as it revives every basketball ghost that ever cared to haunt UK fans. That the Notre Dame game is on the list is a bit surprising. Mike Brey is a good coach with good teams, but I’ve not known the Irish to be a powerhouse in recent years. If anything, I was expecting to see UK/Baylor in that #8 slot. And personally, I’m very excited to see Marshall come to Rupp, so that I can invite some of my friends in Huntington to come over and see their team get whipped in person.
Regardless, Kentucky’s 3 “must see” non-conference games are tied with North Carolina for most in the nation. Indiana and Louisville have one apiece, and each with either the Tarheels or Wildcats. So, as some of us might bemoan the loss of IU and UNC on the schedule this year, I think we should recognize that it’s not all bad. In fact, Mr. Huguenin thinks it’s still got a quarter of the twelve best games in the country. Particularly the impending showdown with the Cards on December 29th. You hear that date, Siva? Nerlens is looking for you, and he always finds what he’s looking for.