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How Kentucky’s non-conference schedule has evolved in the Calipari Era

This morning, Kentucky added five games to its 2019-20 schedule, including a date with Georgia Tech in Rupp Arena. A few hours later, word also leaked out that the Cats will take on Texas Tech in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in January, making Kentucky’s non-conference schedule complete. The response from fans? Underwhelming, to say the least.

Since John Calipari took over in 2009, Kentucky’s scheduling philosophy has shifted dramatically, skewing away from home-and-home series vs. rival blue bloods in favor of neutral site series vs. elite programs and home-and-neutral site series vs. lesser Power Five teams or even mid-majors. Calipari has his reasons — he says he favors neutral site games over home-and-homes to prepare his team for the tournament — but it’s clear that ten years in, he’s got a recipe and he’s sticking to it.

Here’s how Kentucky’s non-conference schedule has evolved in the Calipari Era:

(Rankings are from the AP Poll at the time of the game)


  • Stanford — Neutral (Cancun Challenge)
  • No. 10 North Carolina — Home
  • No. 14 UConn — Neutral (SEC/Big East Challenge, New York)
  • Indiana — Away
  • Louisville — Home

In his first season, Cal inherited the Cancun Challenge from Billy Gillispie, with its chandeliers and bars under the bleachers. Also on the schedule: the SEC/Big East Challenge and home-and-home series with North Carolina, Indiana, and Louisville.


  • Oklahoma — Neutral (Maui Invitational)
  • No. 13 Washington — Neutral (Maui Invitational)
  • UConn — Neutral (Maui Invitational)
  • North Carolina — Away
  • No. 23 Notre Dame — Neutral (SEC/Big East Challenge, Louisville)
  • Indiana — Home
  • No. 22 Louisville — Away

Ahh, the Maui Invitational, how we miss thee. Calipari vowed never to play in the event again because he didn’t want to put his team through three games in three days, a sad moment for Big Blue fans looking for an excuse to take a trip to Hawaii.


  • No. 12 Kansas — Neutral (Champions Classic, New York)
  • Penn State — Neutral (Hall of Fame Tip Off, Connecticut)
  • St. John’s — Home (SEC/Big East Challenge)
  • No. 5 North Carolina — Home
  • Indiana — Away
  • No. 4 Louisville — Home

This is the year the Champions Classic was born, giving Calipari the perfect alternative to the Maui Invitational (in his mind). Kentucky also played in the Hall of Fame Tip Off at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, beginning the trend of random neutral site games. This year marked the end of the North Carolina and Indiana series, the latter dying the moment Christian Watford hit the shot to send Hoosiers fans trampling down to the court. Calipari has offered to do a neutral site series with Indiana — with both games in Indianapolis — but the Hoosiers still refuse.


  • Maryland — Neutral (Barclays Center Classic, New York)
  • No. 9 Duke — Neutral (Champions Classic, Atlanta)
  • Notre Dame — Away (SEC/Big East Challenge)
  • Baylor — Home
  • No. 4 Louisville — Away

With no Indiana or North Carolina, Kentucky added Baylor to the home schedule and a game vs. Maryland in a five-team round-robin tournament to celebrate the opening of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.


  • No. 2 Michigan State — Neutral (Champions Classic, Chicago)
  • Providence — Neutral (Barclays Center, New York)
  • No. 20 Baylor — Neutral (Big 12/SEC Challenge, Dallas)
  • Boise State — Home
  • No. 18 North Carolina — Away
  • Belmont — Home
  • No. 6 Louisville — Home

This year started the trend of home-and-neutral site series with lower Power 5 teams, with Kentucky playing Providence in New York and Providence coming to Rupp the next season. The home-and-home series with North Carolina started up again in 2013, but with Louisville as the only marquee home game, Kentucky added games vs. Boise State and Belmont (yawn).


  • No. 5 Kansas — Neutral (Champions Classic, Indianapolis)
  • Providence — Home
  • No. 6 Texas — Home (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
  • No. 21 North Carolina — Home
  • UCLA — Neutral (CBS Sports Classic, Chicago)
  • No. 4 Louisville — Away

UK beefed up its non-conference slate with the CBS Sports Classic in 2014. Having Texas and North Carolina at Rupp was big, but now that the Tar Heels were also participating in the CBS Sports Classic, there was no need to renew the home-and-home series moving forward. (See what Calipari did there?)


  • No. 5 Duke — Neutral (Champions Classic, Chicago)
  • UCLA — Away
  • Arizona State — Home
  • Ohio State — Neutral (CBS Sports Classic, New York)
  • No. 16 Louisville — Home
  • No. 4 Kansas — Away (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)

With the two-year series vs. Providence over, UK brought in Arizona State for its next home-and-neutral site series. The Sun Devils came to Rupp, and instead of Kentucky returning the favor and going to Tempe, they agreed to play next year’s game in the Bahamas. The Cats also participated in the HoopHall Miami Invitational to add games vs. Boston University and Orlando Antigua’s South Florida. However, Kentucky did add a home-and-home series with UCLA to give fans the chance to check out historic Pauley Pavilion.


  • No. 13 Michigan State — Neutral (Champions Classic, New York)
  • Arizona State — Neutral (Atlantis Showcase, Bahamas)
  • No. 11 UCLA — Home
  • Hofstra — Neutral (Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival, New York)
  • No. 7 North Carolina — Neutral (CBS Sports Classic, Las Vegas)
  • No. 10 Louisville — Away
  • No. 2 Kansas — Home (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)

Home games vs. UCLA and Kansas helped offset four neutral-site games, one of which was vs. Hofstra in the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival, which might as well have been called the “Calipari Wants A Weekend In New York” Classic.


  • No. 4 Kansas — Neutral (Champions Classic, Chicago)
  • Harvard — Home
  • Monmouth — Neutral (Citi Hoops Classic, New York)
  • Virginia Tech — Home
  • UCLA — Neutral (CBS Sports Classic, New Orleans)
  • Louisville — Home
  • No. 7 West Virginia — Away (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)

The “Calipari Wants A Weekend In New York” Classic was renamed the Citi Hoops Classic in 2017. Kentucky also added home games vs. Harvard and Virginia Tech.


  • No. 4 Duke — Neutral (Champions Classic, Indianapolis)
  • Seton Hall — Neutral (Citi Hoops Classic, New York)
  • Utah — Home
  • No. 9 North Carolina — Neutral (CBS Sports Classic, Chicago)
  • Louisville — Away
  • No. 9 Kansas — Home (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)

UK took on Seton Hall in the “Calipari Wants A Weekend In New York” Classic and Utah in the start of a two-year home-and-neutral site series.


  • No. 1 Michigan State — Neutral (Champions Classic, New York)
  • Georgia Tech — Home
  • Utah — Neutral (Las Vegas)
  • No. 12 Ohio State – Neutral (CBS Sports Classic, Las Vegas)
  • No. 5 Louisville — Home
  • No. 11 Texas Tech — Away (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)

(Since we don’t have any official preseason polls yet, I used Jeff Borzello’s “Way Too Early” Top 25.)

Kentucky drew preseason No. 1 Michigan State in this year’s Champions Classic, and Ohio State is expected to be legit; however, the only marquee home games at Rupp are the annual clash with Louisville, a preseason top five squad, and Georgia Tech, who finished last season No. 127 in the NCAA’s NET rankings. The Cats may be taking on four preseason top 15 teams in the non-conference slate, but the lack of quality home games will keep fans grumbling.

Cal’s recipe for a non-conference slate

  • Champions Classic (neutral site)
  • CBS Sports Classic (neutral site)
  • SEC/Big 12 Challenge (home-and-home)
  • Louisville (home-and-home)
  • Two home-and-neutral-site series vs. mid-level Power 5 teams
  • Round Robin tournaments at Rupp vs. crappy teams (Keightley Classic, Bluegrass Showcase, Adolph Rupp Classic, BBN Showcase, etc.)

In ten years, Kentucky’s gone from home-and-home series with three rivals (Indiana, North Carolina, and Louisville), destination tournaments, and the SEC/Big East Challenge to two major neutral site games, the Louisville series, and various home-and-neutral-site series vs. underwhelming opponents. SEC Basketball has improved a lot over the past few years, which helps keep Kentucky’s strength of schedule high, but there’s no denying that the non-conference home schedule is not what it once was.

With annual games against top five/top ten teams in the Champions Classic, the CBS Sports Classic, and the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and the league only getting tougher, you can see why Calipari’s taken this approach, but I doubt many of you are happy about it.


Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

27 Comments for How Kentucky’s non-conference schedule has evolved in the Calipari Era

  1. mashman 93
    6:32 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    The neutral court games are great like the “champions classic” and the “cbs sports classic” but I wish Cal would add another one. Louisville is currently our only home and home in the non-conference. Come on Cal make it happen. GO CATS!!

  2. John Capilari
    6:35 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    Errbody calm down. Schedule looks great. Thanks Cal.

  3. Cats79
    6:42 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    I think the non- conference is the weakest since Cal has been here. Our cats

    • ColoradoCatFan88
      7:17 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

      I like the sound of that. Would love to play the Zags. I hope for that matchup every March

  4. TOMCATS1990
    6:50 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    Weak schedule love a home and home with Gonzaga or Syracuse

    • TOMCATS1990
      7:27 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

      And I want every other year to be a holiday tourney we need to be in Maui and Bahamas

    • titanicsky123
      10:18 am July 24, 2019 Permalink

      Cal doesn’t like stuff like that ????

  5. VirginiaCat
    7:11 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    One of the reasons that many season ticket holders are not renewing.

  6. Headhurts
    7:12 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    Scheduling top teams will require a home & away agreement, so every other year KY’s playing tough teams on the road and people still want tough games at home that same year, while entertaining the fan base is important so is smart scheduling, can’t play vs Goliath every game the first 2 months with a new freshman roster.

    • JLP
      7:32 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

      What would be enlightening is to compare our non-conference with other so-called Bluebloods. Who makes our schedule look hard and who makes it look soft for season ticket holders?

    • mashburnfan1
      7:36 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

      Exactly, Cal did same thing at Memphis. Helps the record look good and get a higher seed and he knows he will lose vs any decent team on the road. We struggle, and lose some, on the road vs bad SEC teams like Bama, Vandy, USC etc. Is why so many can now get in Rupp and see a game and also why we seldom sell out games even offering $10 tix. I remember when tix at Rupp were gold, hard to get and season tix had a waiting list. But we got June now, get to watch bad basketball most of the year and lose to a far less talented team in the tourney, rinse and repeat.

    • notFromhere
      7:43 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink


      [email protected]%#(F*#Sht

      If you don’t want to play the big boys with an all freshmen roster, STOP playing an all freshmen roster! So tired of this already. It’s a sport. You have to PLAY against other people. You have to scout other people.

      You dont get handed a roster like the 2012 team had. It was built. It was seasoned. Quit smellin your own farts and coach, ffs! Play ANYONE, ANYWHERE, if you TRULY “aren’t worried about them” and are “just worried about us” ….

    • 4everUKblue
      9:54 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

      mashbum is stil friggin’ loser and an idiot. Don’t even read his bullshit!

  7. notFromhere
    7:38 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    We need to learn the difference between evolve and devolve. The schedule has devolved, not evolved.

    Playing neutral site games doesnt get UK ready for the tournament.

    Every tourney game is either a true away game or a 50/50 matchup. Most fans of other schools are cheering for whomever UK PLAYS at tourney time. That’s a road game.

    Since the consecutive final four runs and such, the Cats are not as competitive in the tourney. Players aren’t coming here to play High Point or whatever on a neutral court. They’re coming here to play the best teams on the biggest stage while wearing the target on their back.

    Why do modern coaches forget what got em there in the first place? No faith and no consistency, and a lack of understanding the big picture. Maybe he has to be forced to play Indiana, UNC, etc, (though I’m not a big fan of the IU series), even if he doesnt understand why…

    • VirginiaCat
      9:31 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

      No one is going to force Cal to do anything. He sees his legacy as getting more and more players into the NBA and everything else is secondary. More competitive games at home? No. Play a zone defense when it makes sense? No. Call a timeout at a critical juncture? No. Actually build a team in order to win a championship? No. Stay at home when a top recruit (Blackshear) is in town? No. Prepare your teams to play blue bloods on national television? No. Assemble teams that can hit free throws and shoot the 3? No. I could go on and on. One last one. Push as many players to the NBA as possible? Yes!!!

    • DelrayCat
      10:11 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

      VaCat..dude… you are extremely in-tune and smart with what is up..however, I think your take is very pessimistic and dickish in tone. Sure, we all wish things were more geared toward U of K and solely on U of K and winning. But, Cl’s approach is today’s reality…and on top of the mountain. Sometimes I think we all need to take a breathe and realize what he is doing here. Imagine for a second Billy G wasn’t a total disaster and only partially so….or Tubby hanging on here for 20 years..either way that is mediocrity vs what we have now which is consistently running #1-5 EVERY SINGLE YEAR in term of who ca win it all. Eventually we hope it will pay off…but if it doesn’t, it was still a hell of a run.

    • 4everUKblue
      12:46 am July 24, 2019 Permalink

      Delray good take and you nailed VaCat. He is rarely not pessimistic and dickish.

  8. Kernel Sanders
    7:43 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    Some people defend the scheduling, some bash it. Doesn’t really matter–as long as Cal is here, this is what it’s going to be. As for as the home schedule, yes it is part of the reason I’m giving up my season tix. Just not logical to pay the $2,600 while being moved up 10 rows after re-seating to see maybe 3 good games. Will put that $$ toward vacations, and SEC or NCAA tourney games. No need to have season tix anymore…they aren’t hard to find for FV.

  9. CahillsCrossingNT
    7:44 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    I like the fact they are going to Lubbock. That will be interesting.

  10. nocode96
    9:40 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    Boy this one brought the angry, old men out didn’t it?

  11. VirginiaCat
    11:28 pm July 23, 2019 Permalink

    Delray Cat: The best part of your post was your use of the word “dickish.” Made me laugh.

    • 4everUKblue
      12:47 am July 24, 2019 Permalink

      He’s right you are a dick and a pessimist and you really need to learn to reply to the right comment.

  12. just a guy
    8:30 am July 24, 2019 Permalink

    So basically your saying we lost UNC and Indiana home and home, and everything else stayed the same.
    You seem to love the “we lost the destination” games but those games were neutral games against mediocre teams, but the rich gets a reason to go to Hawaii. Yet he changed to games in NYC, and Las Vegas, and added the champions classic and the CBS which are neutral games against really good teams.
    UKs home non-con schedule really does suck, and adds to reasons people don’t go, along with ticket prices are way to high, parking at Rupp is like finding buried treasure and because the teams are weak, the atmosphere is boring.
    I understand he doesn’t want to play Indiana home and home, but I’d love for him to bring back UK playing a really good proximity team (IU, Notre dame, cincy, etc) in Louisville every year, especially now that Yum would allow us to schedule there.

    • just a guy
      9:11 am July 24, 2019 Permalink

      You also have to admit that even tho the home games are not great at least they have meaning. Other than mt st Mary, and Lamar the rest at least have a storyline. I’d rather see wku than eku, and NKU instead of Utah st, but whatever. I still think a cincy or Xavier Louisville/cincy site game would be great.

  13. Memphis UK Cat
    9:04 am July 24, 2019 Permalink

    This is why I love traveling to neutral games and some road games vs Rupp home games. The game atmosphere is way better and the competition is better. I spend about the same for what people pay for season tickets and I get the best of the best. There is nothing better than tournament time.

  14. RC
    11:18 am July 24, 2019 Permalink

    So many contradictions to our scheduling philosophy. We complain about attendance at Rupp and the lack of enthusiasm from the Blue Hairs, but we schedule mostly cupcakes at home, which has killed the vibe and hurt attendance. We play good teams (Duke, KS, Mich St, etc) at neutral sites but how does that help the average season ticket holder? It requires more time/money to attend, which limits the number of fans who can actually get to those games. Would CBS or ESPN not carry a game between UK-Mich St in Rupp or East Lansing? Come on.
    UK sold their soul to TV and the wealthiest of fans years ago. They’re actually DOWNSIZING Rupp Arena to appease the wealthiest donors, not making it more accessible for the average fan.
    I grew up when UK would play the likes of IU, Notre Dame, Houston, KS, Purdue, UofL, NC State, Syracuse, UNC at home. And not one of these per year but multiple per season. Look at the non-conf schedule in 1984:
    UofL, IU, at KS, Wyoming, BYU, at Cinci, at IL, Purdue (in Freedom Hall), Houston.
    That team went to the Final Four and the game in Rupp against Houston is considered one of the all time greats.

  15. Marty
    11:42 am July 25, 2019 Permalink

    The way i see it the scheduling of the mid-majors etc gets the team ready for the First two tournament rounds while the other ganes gets us ready for a deeper run. Yes it would be nice to play UNC Duke Kansas and others every year maybe Indiana if they become relevant again, but thatcould worsen or record non-con to (if IU included) 2-11 at worst case where now at worst case it’s likely around 7-6 Also you have to figure in the money the 7 teams get for playing UK that might mean something better for them. So while we might all want the non-con schedule to be tje top 13 teams every year in reality we wouldn’t we might have to suffer through a 0-12 football season and a 0-13 non-con basketball schedule one year in the same year yes that would be worst case but could be possible. So why not have teams we /should/ out score by 50 or more on the schedule if they get hot they might beat us by 10 or 20 at rupp to me mean nothing but a few thousand more fans that may not ever watch us on tv because their team is playing us or maybe listening to us too. That may energize them for their season, that is worth it to me personally.