While it feels like a lifetime between now and the start of the college basketball season, we are – believe it or not – just 100 days away from the first game of the year tipping off (Well, at least according to the Kentucky basketball Instagram page. I didn’t actually do the math). And while there is still quite a bit of time between now and that opener against Michigan State, there are signs we’re getting closer.
Like last week for example, when Kentucky’s out of conference was officially completed with a road game at Texas Tech as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
With the out of conference schedule now finalized it means that we now know all 31 games on Kentucky’s schedule (by technicality, we don’t know the dates or times of the SEC regular season games, but those too have been announced). And with the full 31-game schedule complete, it means that now is as good a time as any to look ahead to what’s coming next season.
So with the schedule out, I thought it might be fun to go ahead and take all 31 regular season games, and rank them from the “most watchable” to the “least watchable.”
Factors include the opposing team, any noted hatred between the two schools, and even venue. Since Kentucky is basically the biggest game on every other team’s home schedule, you’ll see a lot more road games towards the top of the list then home games. That’s not to say that Rupp Arena won’t host great games (it will), just that when Kentucky goes on the road, it is just a bigger deal in that city than it is a lot of times than when the game returns to Lexington.
(For example, without trying to piss off either Kentucky or Auburn fans, I’d say that Kentucky coming to Auburn is a LOT bigger deal to Auburn fans, than when it is for Kentucky fans when Auburn visits Rupp Arena. Hope that makes sense)
Anyway enough fluff, and let’s get to the rankings.
1) Louisville at Kentucky (Saturday, December 28, 2019)
It isn’t often that a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup to open the season (like Kentucky-Michigan State could be in the Champion’s Classic) can be pushed to No. 2, but in this rare instance it feels ok to make an exception. To his credit Chris Mack has the Cardinals way ahead of schedule, and with the return of Jordan Nwora, they should open the season ranked in the Top 5.
Yes, I’m an outsider, but even as an outsider this is how the rivalry should be – a heated matchup between two really good teams.
The fact that we can focus on the teams on the court and not a jerk on the opposing sidelines for Louisville (sorry Rick Pitino, it’s true) makes it all the better.
2) Michigan State vs. Kentucky (Tuesday, November 5, 2019)
I already ruined the punchline here, but yeah, this one is going to be pretty sweet. After making a Final Four last year and returning most of its key pieces, the Spartans should be a pretty consensus No. 1 coming into the season. And after a big spring where both EJ Montgomery and Ashton Hagans returned to school (where each could earn First Team All-SEC honors) there’s no reason to think that the Wildcats won’t start high in the polls as well (I personally have them at No. 2).
This one needs no hype. It’s a season-opener between two elite teams in the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden.
Can we just tip this game tomorrow, please??
3) Florida at Kentucky (TBA)
I tend to skew with road games being some of the better environments in SEC play (that’s no disrespect to Kentucky fans, but again, having Kentucky in town is just a HUGE deal to opposing fan-bases) but I’ll make an exception here.
The reason: After he spent most of the spring flirting with Kentucky (and most of the SEC for that matter), Kerry Blackshear ultimately chose the Florida Gators over the Wildcats. Because of that, I expect Rupp Arena to be EXTRA lit that game.
This was already a likely Top 10 matchup, featuring two teams that are “Final Four good.”
Now you add the Blackshear element to the mix?
This is the home game you need to get to if you’re a Wildcats fan next season.
4) Kentucky at Texas Tech (Saturday, January 25, 2020)
So I got a little flack on Twitter the other day when I said that I believe this could be one of the “games of the year” in college basketball, with many Kentucky fans pointing out that it’s not even among the top handful of games on the Wildcats’ schedule.
Saw that the Big 12-SEC Challenge games are official. Let's just say, Kentucky at Texas Tech might be one of the 2-3 games of the year. Baylor-Florida will be a Top 20 matchup by the time its played. And dont sleep on Tennessee-Kansas either. Overall, GREAT set of games pic.twitter.com/mara4fAzZB
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) July 25, 2019
While I agree Louisville, Michigan State and maybe even Florida are bigger, don’t sleep on this one in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. Texas Tech should again be ranked somewhere in the Top 10 (trust me, Chris Beard will figure it out) and as long as Tech lives up to the preseason billing this will be – and I’m not exaggerating when I say this – one of the biggest home games in the history of Texas Tech basketball.
Go ahead and take two Top 10 teams, and maybe the toughest road environment Kentucky will play in all year, and we’ll have ourselves a doozy of a game.
5) Kentucky at LSU (TBA)
Speaking of “unforgiving road environments,” we know that while LSU fans don’t always get up for basketball, it’s a whole different deal when Kentucky comes to town. Just look at the 2014-2015 season, when a two-point win in Baton Rouge was basically the toughest regular season game the Wildcats played all season, on their way to entering the NCAA Tournament at 34-0.
So take a tough environment, add in a team that returns a bunch of key pieces including Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Emmitt Williams, then throw in some bad blood from the way last season’s game ended at Rupp Arena (a game that, as it turns out, cost Kentucky the regular season SEC title), and I think we’ll have ourselves a heck of a game.
6) Kentucky at Auburn (TBA)
Last year I had a coach tell me that when Auburn is good, it is one of the toughest road environments anywhere in college basketball. Well, with several key pieces from last year’s Final Four team back, Auburn should again be good.
A trip to Auburn last year is where we learned just how tough the Wildcats were, as they held on for a wild 82-80 win over the then Top 15 ranked Tigers.
And they will certainly be put to the test on the Plains next season as well.
7) Ohio State vs. Kentucky (Saturday, December 21)
I know that on paper Kentucky vs. Ohio State doesn’t feel as sexy as some of the other games on the schedule, especially when the CBS Sports Classic can sometimes give us a “Kentucky vs. North Carolina matchup.” As someone who was at the Kentucky-Carolina game three years ago in Vegas (aka the Malik Monk 47-point explosion) I can tell you, it was one of the best college basketball environments I’ve ever been in.
Still, while Ohio State might not scream “marquee matchup” trust me when I say, the Buckeyes are better than most realize coming into this season. Chris Holtmann is a bona-fide stud, and I believe the Buckeyes will be around a Top 15-ish team by the time this game is played.
My only fear? With Kentucky making a two-game jaunt to Las Vegas that starts with a Wednesday matchup against Utah and ends with this game, I’m just not sure how many folks from the Wildcats’ contingent will survive through the week and make it to this game.
If you do, more power to you. If you don’t well, it’s hard for me to blame you.
8) Georgia at Kentucky (TBA)
Truthfully, I’m not buying the Georgia hype this year, especially after they lost Nic Claxton early in the draft.
So really this ranking just comes down to the fact that I’m fascinated to see the reception Anthony Edwards gets when he walks into Rupp Arena.
I’m equally fascinated to see Edwards’ reaction. Think there’s any chance he walks in, sees 24,000 screaming fans in blue and wonders “Wait, why did I go to Georgia again?”
Yeah, me too.
9) Kentucky at Florida (TBA)
Florida-Kentucky games are always fun, and as mentioned above, this one will get a little added excitement with the whole underlying Kerry Blackshear storyline.
Yet with the first game in the Gators-Wildcats home-and-home set for Rupp, it means the second game will be at the O-Dome, likely in the final game of the regular season.
And assuming that it is the final game of the regular season, it could have major SEC regular season championship and NCAA Tournament seeding implications.
So yeah, this is a big, potentially HUGE one.
And if we know anything about Florida basketball, it will probably be their only sellout of the year.
10) Alabama at Kentucky
On paper, home games against Auburn and Tennessee probably seem bigger, but again this is an article about “watchability.” And I do believe that Alabama will actually be a tougher opponent than either Auburn or Tennessee in 2019-2020. With Kira Lewis and John Petty back, you could argue that the Tide have the best backcourt in the SEC, and might even be a dark horse SEC title candidate.
Will they be that good under first-year head coach Nate Oats? Only time will tell.
But this is one that I would NOT want to miss if I was a Wildcats fan.
11) Mississippi State at Kentucky
Another sneaky-fun home game, against a sneaky good team. While I wouldn’t put Mississippi State in the “SEC title contender” category I do believe that they could be a tourney team thanks almost exclusively to the return of Reggie Perry. Perry is a former McDonald’s All-American who tested the draft waters, but elected to return this year – then went out and absolutely dominated for Team USA’s U-19 gold medal winning team this summer. He led the team in scoring and rebounding, and was named MVP of the tournament.
No, this won’t be “Kentucky-Florida” or “Kentucky-Louisville.”
But it will probably be more fun than most fans realize.
12) Kentucky at Tennessee (TBA)
Yes, Tennessee lost Grant Williams, Jordan Bone and Admiral Schofield to the NBA, but I still expect them to be good enough to make the Big Dance. And I still expect Thompson-Bolling Arena to be rocking when the Cats come to town. If only because Thompson-Bolling Arena is always rocking when the Cats play in Knoxville.
13) Kentucky at Arkansas (TBA)
On the one hand, Mike Anderson is out in Fayetteville, so this one might not have as much hatred (or dirty play) as we’ve been used to. On the other hand, with Eric Musselman in, the Hogs won’t be the pushover they’ve been at times the last few years either.
Two things I know: Musselman will have Arkansas playing harder than they ever did under Anderson. And Bud Walton is another arena that’s always at its loudest when Kentucky comes to town.
14) Auburn at Kentucky (TBA)
15) Tennessee at Kentucky (TBA)
These two are basically the same game – home games against good, but not great SEC teams.
Unfortunately, there’s just no way that either game can live up to the hype of last season, when Tennessee came to Rupp Arena as the No. 1 ranked team in the country and Auburn was on its way to a Final Four berth.
But given the history of Kentucky and both schools, they should be two really good matchups.
16) Ole Miss at Kentucky
This could be a sneaky fun matchup when you consider that Ole Miss is coming off an NCAA Tournament bid last year, and returns enough pieces to get back in 2019-2020.
I’d be lying if I said that a visit from Ole Miss is one that you’re going to tell your grandkids about 30 years from now, but the Rebels will be better than most around college basketball realize.
17) Georgia Tech at Kentucky (December 14, 2019)
So we’re now starting to get to the “reach for entertainment value” portion of these power rankings.
Still, Georgia Tech is a fringe NCAA Tournament type team.
And hey, all those “John Calipari vs. his former assistant coach Josh Pastner” conversations will at least give us something to talk about during an otherwise painfully slow portion of the sports calendar, right?
18) UAB at Kentucky (November 29, 2019)
Yes, I’m aware of the history here, and yes, I know that this one will have extra meaning for a certain portion of Kentucky fans.
With that said, if the final score of this game is within 20 points I’ll be shocked.
19) Utah vs. Kentucky (December 18, 2019)
No, I don’t think Utah will be very good next season, but, well… VEGAS!!!! Whose coming with me?
While nobody travels like UK fans, I do wonder how many fans will make it to Vegas for this game, which is a full three days before the Ohio State matchup in the Champions Classic.
And for those who do, all I can say is: Good luck to you, and your livers.
Spending four days in Vegas is like spending a month anywhere else.
20) Kentucky at Georgia (TBA)
Another SEC home-and-home, and another game that I have a really hard time seeing Kentucky losing.
I don’t buy into Tom Crean and I don’t buy into Georgia.
Although I do buy Ashton Hagans vs. Anthony Edwards being a matchup of two kids who could end up as Top 15 picks next season (yes, I’m high on Hagans having a breakout year in 2019-2020).
21) Vanderbilt at Kentucky (TBA)
22) Kentucky at Vanderbilt (TBA)
Let’s be honest, these two games are essentially the same: A pair of matchups in which Kentucky will be heavily favored, and where there will be more blue in the building than black and gold.
I have faith Jerry Stackhouse can get things rolling at Vandy. I’m just not sure it will be this season.
23) Kentucky at Texas A&M (TBA)
Same as above.
Buzz Williams is a rock star. But this could be a longggggggggg year for him in College Station.
Kentucky should win this one going away.
24) Kentucky at South Carolina (TBA)
Crazy stat for you: Frank Martin is now entering Year 8 at South Carolina. During that run he has made just one NCAA Tournament – and that happened to be the year that the Gamecocks not only made the tournament, but went all the way to the Final Four. Unreal.
Point being, is possible that Martin might just be a weeeeee bit overrated as a head coach, and that the South Carolina run to the Final Four might have been a wee bit of an aberration a few years ago?
In a related story, is it also possible that I should consider entering a witness protection program after those comments I just made on Frank Martin?
Yes. Yes, I probably should.
25) Missouri at Kentucky (TBA)
Missouri is probably a little better than most folks realize, with a bunch of good guards back on campus alongside big man Jeremiah Tilmon.
Still, in the grand scheme of things, I can’t lie: There just isn’t all that much that excites me about Mizzou basketball these days.
26) Evansville at Kentucky (November 12, 2019)
Sure, this one will probably be a blowout, but it does mark the return of Walter McCarty to Rupp Arena.
The Purple Aces (killer nickname by the way) also have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s younger brother Tomasi (killer regular name by the way) on their roster. So that’s kind of cool, right?
27) Utah Valley at Kentucky (November 18,, 2019)
This one lost a little of its pizazz when former Wildcat Mark Pope left Utah Valley to coach at BYU and took his best player with him.
On a positive note, Pope was replaced by former NBA forward Mark Madsen – and who knows, maybe Madsen will break out some dance moves at Rupp Arena.
28) Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky (November 8, 2019)
Clearly there are some in-state ties here which are kind of cool, and this will also be the first game after the Wildcats face off with Michigan State to open the season. Meaning that Kentucky could potentially be looking at a letdown (if they beat MSU) or a blood bath, if they come in angry after a loss to the Spartans.
Still, if this game is within 15 points at halftime or 30 at the final whistle, I’ll be shocked.
29) Farleigh Dickinson at Kentucky (December 7, 2019)
Fairleigh Dickinson is actually coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, where they won their play-in game before losing to Gonzaga once they got to the field of 64.
Point being, if you want to poke your friends who are Louisville fans, you can remind them that by technicality, Fairleigh Dickinson had more tourney wins last year than the Cards did.
30) Mount Saint Mary’s at Kentucky (November 22, 2019)
“The Mount” (as they call themselves) has actually made the NCAA Tournament twice in the last five years, so in theory, this one could be interesting.
Of course both of those tourney appearances came under former coach Jamion Christian who is now the head coach at George Washington, and the Mount went 9-22 last season.
So in theory, this one might actually not be interesting at all.
31) Lamar at Kentucky (November 24, 2019)
Full-disclosure: I take a lot of pride in being a guy that knows a LOT about college hoops. I can honestly say that there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not talking to coaches, researching rosters or reading something in preparation for next season.
I bring that up to say that as much pride as I take in being a college hoops insider, I know absolutely nothing about Lamar.
No idea what conference they play in. No idea how they were last year. Nothing.
So this one, you’re kind of on your own on.
Even I can’t come up with a reason to be excited here.