You’ll find little debate among Kentucky fans on which games are most intriguing on next year’s basketball schedule. December 28th against Louisville in Rupp Arena tops the list, followed by meetings with Michigan State in Chicago and North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Neutral site games at Cowboys Stadium (vs. Baylor) and Barclays Center (vs. Providence) also highlight the non-conference schedule, but top-to-bottom there is competitive basketball that will be coming to Rupp Arena to face the Cats in nearly every contest next season. Below is a look at the ‘best of the rest’ of the 2013-14 non-conference basketball slate. These games aren’t the ones you’ll most be excited for, but they’re against formidable opponents that will prepare Kentucky for hopefully another banner season in 2013, or at the very least bolster the Cats’ RPI as long as they each maintain continued success in their respective conferences.
Belmont has reached the NCAA Tournament in six of the last eight years, has won 20+ games in eight of the last 10 seasons, and is one of two programs in the nation (Kansas is the other) to win 12 or more conference games in each of the past 11 seasons. Since 2006, Belmont trails only Kansas with 12 conference championships, including both regular season and tournament titles. Head Coach Rick Byrd is in his 27th season at Belmont and ranks seventh among all active NCAA Division I head coaches in career wins with 663 (h/t Belmont’s 2013 postseason media guide).
Last season, the Bruins finished 26-7 and took both the regular season OVC championship and tournament title in their first year since moving into the league from the Atlantic Sun. The Bruins lose three starters to graduation, but among their top returnees will be seniors-to-be J.J. Mann (10.5 ppg) and Blake Jenkins (9.7 ppg).
Boise State is coming off a 21-11 season, which earned them an at-large appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Boise State has won at least 20 games in two of the last three seasons under head coach Leon Rice. The Broncos will be even better in 2013-14, as they are set to return all five primary starters and eleven of the twelve players on their roster from last season. The only senior from last year that the Broncos will be missing next season is center Kenny Buckner, who started three games and averaged 5.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Derrick Marks (17.7 ppg), Anthony Drmic (16.3 ppg) and Jeff Elorriaga (10.2 ppg) are among the top returnees for the Broncos.
The Keightley Classic
Two of Kentucky’s four opponents in the Keightley Classic played postseason basketball last season. You know all about Robert Morris (and I won’t mention them any further), but Texas-Arlington also participated in the CIT tournament with a 19-14 record. Cleveland State and Eastern Michigan round out the field of the round-robin tournament at Rupp Arena, which are two of only three opponents on the entire non-conference schedule that had losing records last season. These opponents are not world-beaters, but the schedule as a whole is filled with teams all capable of having strong seasons within their own conferences, which in return could give Kentucky one of the highest RPI ratings at the end of the season.