Kentucky Basketball: 5 Key Matchups on Next Season's Schedule
There is plenty of excitement surrounding the 2012-13 Kentucky men's basketball team. Fortunately for fans, there should be plenty of fantastic matchups to watch in the upcoming season.
Kentucky's non-conference schedule features a tough slate of neutral and road games, although the home schedule is weaker than it has been in years.
As for the conference schedule, it features two new opponents in Missouri and Texas A&M, both of whom are entering their first season as members of the Southeastern Conference. Both universities feature strong basketball programs, which should allow the SEC to place more teams in the NCAA tournament at the end of the season.
Read ahead for the five key matchups on Kentucky's 2012-13 basketball schedule.
11/09/12: Kentucky vs. Maryland
Kentucky's first game of the season will be played on the newest neutral court in the country. The Wildcats will square off against the Maryland Terrapins in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Center.
This is the new basketball arena for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, and this UK-Maryland matchup will be the arena's official grand opening. The venue should be extremely exciting for the team and fans alike. In fact, it will be similar to Kentucky's first meeting against Kansas last season in Madison Square Garden.
As for the opposing team, Maryland should be able to place a decent team on the floor. However, it will be outclassed in terms of talent when compared to Kentucky. With that being said, Maryland will have more experience, as will most teams that Kentucky faces this season.
What makes this meeting so difficult for the Wildcats is that it will be the team's first regular season together. To do so in a hyped venue that is far away from the comforts of Rupp Arena will be a difficult task for the young team, but it should ultimately be an exciting season-opening event for the Big Blue.
11/13/12: Kentucky vs. Duke
John Calipari did not give his young Wildcats any favors with his early-season scheduling. After opening away from home against Maryland on November 9, the team leaves Brooklyn and plays its next game in Atlanta, Georgia.
They will square off against the arch-rival Duke Blue Devils. This matchup will feature two of college basketball's blue-blood programs and should be great fun for fans of both programs.
The two schools could have met in last season's NCAA tournament, which pitted Kentucky and Duke as the top two seeds in their region. However, Duke was upset in the first round by Lehigh University, and the potential Elite Eight clash failed to materialize.
Both teams are coming off major personnel losses, including Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee for Duke and the entire starting lineup for Kentucky. Duke has a definite experience advantage, but it should be a great showcase of the nation's top young talent, as both teams have plenty of star players on their respective roster.
This game against Duke will be Kentucky's highlight game of the non-conference schedule, so it will be important to get a win against one of their most hated college basketball rivals early in the season.
12/29/12: Kentucky at Louisville
The annual Kentucky-Louisville men's basketball game is one of the greatest traditions in the state of Kentucky and one of college basketball's premier rivalries. That hatred for each other has only grown since John Calipari and Rick Pitino took over Kentucky and Louisville, respectively.
Coming into the 2012-13 contest, Calipari has won four consecutive games against Pitino's Cardinals. This includes a win in last season's Final Four, dubbed the "Dream Game II" by local fans in what might have been the most hyped meeting between the two schools in their history.
This season's contest will take place in the Yum! Center, giving Louisville the home crowd edge. Also favoring the Cardinals is the fact that most of last season's team is returning, whereas the top six players in last year's rotation left Kentucky for the NBA.
There is a big experience gap between the two schools, but Calipari's squad will still be talented enough to match up against arguably Rick Pitino's best team since his tenure began at Louisville.
02/12/13: Kentucky at Florida
Once the Louisville game passes, the schedule shifts to the SEC conference slate. Kentucky completed an undefeated conference season run last season, but its road through to the conference title figures to be much more difficult this season.
That starts with this matchup against Billy Donovan's Florida Gators. Every Kentucky-Florida contest ends up producing an instant classic, as the two teams have quickly formed the most intense rivalry in the SEC.
Kentucky defeated the Gators three times in 2011-12, but each game was close and down to the wire. This year's home-and-home series figures to be no different, as both teams lost key contributors during the offseason, but return plenty of talent to compete with the country's best programs.
Florida will be led by the trio of Kenny Boynton, Patric Young and Erik Murphy. Meanwhile, the Wildcats will feature star freshmen Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin, along with returning sophomore Kyle Wiltjer. Playing on the road against the Gators is never an easy task, but this year's team should be up to the challenge.
02/23/13: Kentucky vs. Missouri
Missouri begins its first season as a member of the SEC in 2012-13, and it is expected to be a great addition to the conference. The Tigers have always had a strong basketball program, and they bring that tradition, along with a passionate fanbase, to a conference that has badly needed more marquee basketball programs.
For years, the only two challengers for the conference title have been Kentucky and Florida. Missouri will fit right in with those two schools and pose an immediate and exciting challenge to those schools for the SEC crown this season.
Last season was one of the best in Missouri history, as it was consistently ranked in the Top 10 of the polls and won the 2012 Big 12 Conference Tournament. It entered the NCAA tournament as a two-seed, but it was upset in the first round by Norfolk State.
Despite the setback, Missouri is expected to field a very strong team this upcoming season. It returns star player Phil Pressey, who might be the best point guard in the conference. The team also added senior forward Alex Oriakhi, who transferred from Connecticut and started for the Huskies team that won the 2011 national championship.
The Tigers will be a difficult matchup for Kentucky, largely because of their experience and front court size. With that being said, this game will be played in the comfortable confines of Rupp Arena, and the players will be ready to secure a signature win during conference play.