Earlier this week, Stuart Hammer wrote a post about an article which picked seven teams that Kentucky should be worried about in 2013: Duke, Baylor, Louisville, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee, and Indiana (if the Cats would meet the Hoosiers in the NCAA Tournament). I agree, for the most part, that those are games you can pick out from the schedule that will be tougher games, or in Indiana’s case, a tough challenge in the post-season for the Cats. The only criticism I have with that list is Baylor (at Rupp) being selected over Notre Dame (in South Bend). With as many players that Baylor has lost, even with a good class coming in, I see that game playing out similar to the way the St. John’s game played out last year in Rupp. Notre Dame, on the other hand, will be our first true road test against a very experienced Notre Dame team. If the Cats bring an undefeated record into South Bend, you can expect the atmosphere there to be as hostile as any that the Cats will face all year.
Notre Dame, however, is not a team that will “sneak up” on the Cats, nor would any of the six previously mentioned teams on the regular season schedule. Calipari wll drill it in our kids’ heads that it will be a war in South Bend, and he will remind them of the loss last year’s team took in their first true road game in Bloomington. It will be a tough game either way, but UK won’t go into it thinking that it won’t be anything other than a war against a solid Big East team on the road.
So which team could sneak up on Kentucky this year? Which team could give the Cats a tough game when they aren’t exactly expecting one? What game can I see on the 2012-13 schedule as a “trap game”?
If I had to pick one trap game on next year’s non-conference schedule, it would be December 22nd against Marshall. It’s the last game Kentucky plays before Christmas break, and their opponent when they return from the Holidays is Louisville. It would be very easy for the team to look forward to coming home to see their families and also thinking ahead to that Louisville game, and maybe not showing up against Marshall. UK has struggled in the past against mid-major opponents right before Christmas break, such as in 2009-10 when UK found themselves tied with Long Beach State at halftime, and last season when they held only a 6-point lead over Loyola at the half. It took a 17-2 second-half run or Kentucky to open things up against Loyola, and it could have been a very interesting finish if not for a career-high 24 points from Kyle Wiltjer. If a team as super-talented a last year’s 38-2 National Champions can struggle against a mid-major, then this team can too.
Marshall may be known for football, but their hoops squad has been very competitive of late. Last year, Marshall cracked the Top 25 polls, defeated Cincinnati, and finished off the year with a 21-14 record. The Herd had hopes of an NCAA Tournament appearance last season and ended up in the NIT, but return enough from last year to make a run at the NCAA’s again this year. Marshall returns leading scorer DeAndre Kane (16.5 ppg) and Dennis Tinnon (10.2 ppg), and you betcha Kentucky will be their Super Bowl this season.
I don’t think we have to worry about a Calipari-coached team with as much talent as this one actually losing to a mid-major team, but as Calipari likes to say, his players are human and they are not computers. Marshall is a game that I think could be an interesting one and closer than most would expect.