Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: In-Depth Analysis of Non-Conference Schedule
Kentucky basketball never sleeps. With the release of the 2012-13 non-conference schedule, Kentucky fans have reasons to get excited and pundits have ammunition to discredit John Calipari's scheduling tactics.
Like the schedule or not, it's not that bad. The home slate actually looks better than some previous years, but that's not what we are discussing today. We'll look at schedule comparisons later this week.
Here, we'll take an in-depth look at the teams on the 2012-13 non-conference schedule. Analysis will include each team's win/loss record from last season, a breakdown of how Kentucky matches up and any other storylines for each game.
You might even see some predictions for each game.
Let's get started!
You can check out a list of Kentucky's non-conference games here.
Oct. 12: Big Blue Madness
Oct. 24: Blue/White scrimmage
Nov. 1: Northwood (Exhibition)
Nov. 5: Transylvania (Exhibition)
Key Returners: Ryan Harrow (NC State transfer), Kyle Wiltjer
Breakdown: Not much to say here, aside from the anticipation that will surround Big Blue Madness and the Blue/White scrimmage. Excitement will be as high as ever as these Wildcats are introduced to the college basketball world.
The Wildcats beat Transylvania in an exhibition game last season, 97-53.
We'll get our first glimpse at just how talented the 2012-13 roster is and what roles each player will play. A rotation of seven players—Harrow, Goodwin, Poythress, Wiltjer, Nerlens Noel, WCS and Mays—appears to be the most likely scenario.
There are too many burning questions to count for the defending national champions. Most importantly, is this team everything we've come to expect? Will Harrow be another great point guard? Will Wiltjer step up and score? Is Noel really a better shot-blocker than Anthony Davis?
A few exhibition games won't tell the whole story for next season, but they'll give the Wildcats a nice tune-up opportunity before two big games.
Nov. 9: Maryland, Barclays Center Classic (New York)
2011-12 Win/Loss: 17-15 (6-10)
Key Returners: Alex Len, Nick Faust, Pe'Shon Howard, James Padgett
Key Recruits: Shaquille Cleare, Jake Layman, Sam Cassell, Jr.
Breakdown: This game is the inaugural Barclays Center Classic, held in New York.
Maryland is an up-and-coming ACC squad. Head coach Mark Turgeon has put together a strong recruiting class, and the Terps have great balance.
Losing Terrell Stoglin and his ACC-leading 21.6 points per game leaves Turgeon with a huge hole to fill. That hole widens with the notion that Howard is coming off an ACL tear and may not be ready to play in this game.
Nerlens Noel will be tested against the Terrapins. He'll be facing a talented frontcourt in Len (7'1") and Cleare. Cleare is known for this slam on Noel, which may motivate Noel to come out and make a statement.
You may notice in that above video that Cleare is playing with two guards that look like twins. Lo and behold, those twins are Andrew and Aaron Harrison, both of whom are widely considered top ten prospects. Both Kentucky and Maryland are in the running for the Harrison twins' services.
The winner of this game isn't guaranteed to land the Harrison twins, but it would be a nice bragging right to say the least.
Prediction: Both teams are sluggish to start the season, but Kentucky pulls ahead late. UK wins, 64-59.
Nov. 13: Duke, State Farm Champions Classic (Georgia Dome)
2011-12 Win/Loss: 27-7 (13-3)
Key Returners: Quinn Cook, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee, Tyler Thornton
Key Recruits: Amile Jefferson, Rasheed Sulaimon
Breakdown: The Duke/Kentucky rivalry has been dormant since 2001. They'll meet in the Georgia Dome in the State Farm Champions Classic, capping ESPN's Tip-Off Marathon in style.
Like all Mike Krzyzewski teams, the 2012-13 Blue Devils are talented, experienced and deep. Two big-name recruits join a squad that might have gotten better with the removal of Austin Rivers.
This season, Duke will once again rely heavily on outside scoring. Mason Plumlee is solid defensively, but don't expect him to rack up points, especially against Nerlens Noel down low.
Intriguing matchups abound in this prolific matchup. Duke's four experienced guards battle Kentucky's (relatively) inexperienced trio of Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin and Julius Mays. Kyle Wiltjer and Kelly are two stretch-4s that have very similar playing styles.
Two rookie duos may steal the spotlight, though. Jefferson and Suliamon will match up against Kentucky's Goodwin and Alex Poythress. All four were 2012 McDonald's All-Americans.
Prediction: Duke shows no sign of rust, despite Krzyzewski coaching the USA Basketball team over the summer. The Blue Devils get hot from the outside and beat the Wildcats, 76-66.
Nov. 16: Lafayette
2011-12 Win/Loss: 13-18 (7-7)
Key Returners: Rob Delaney, Seth Hinrichs, Tony Johnson
Key Recruits: Zach Rufer, Ben Freeland
Breakdown: This will be the first home game for the new-look Kentucky Wildcats, who look to improve on a 52-game home win streak. Marist was given the honor of being the first team to play the Wildcats in Rupp Arena last year, but that was prior to the State Farm Champions Classic.
With two substantial games away from Rupp to start the season, a three-game home stand will provide John Calipari some time to tamper with his lineup before two more premier matchups.
Prediction: Kentucky dominates early, with Calipari digging deep into his bench in the second half. UK wins, 87-59.
Nov. 21: Morehead State
2011-12 Win/Loss: 18-15 (10-6)
Key Returners: Drew Kelly, Marsell Holden, Milton Chavis
Key Recruits: Norville Carey
Breakdown: Sean Woods has deep roots in Kentucky basketball lore, but he'll be on the wrong side of the story on Nov. 21. He's taking over a Morehead State squad after reaching the NCAA tournament with Mississippi Valley State last season.
Although a meeting with Isaiah Canaan and Murray State would've been a nice filler here, a date with an unforgettable Wildcat is always welcome.
Prediction: UK rolls, 82-60.
Nov. 23: Long Island
2011-12 Win/Loss: 25-9 (16-2)
Key Returners: Julian Boyd, Jason Brickman, C.J. Garner, Jamal Olasewere
Key Recruits: D.J. Griggs
Breakdown: Long Island is one of the better non-conference teams that Kentucky will play in Rupp Arena this season. The Blackbirds score in bunches. They finished third in the nation last season in scoring, averaging 81.9 points per game.
Long Island will return their four leading scorers from last season (mentioned above) and have made two straight NCAA tournaments.
Here, we'll see just how deep John Calipari is willing to delve into his bench. In what is sure to be a fast-paced game, bench opportunities may be frequent.
Prediction: In a high-scoring affair, the Wildcats win with overwhelming talent, 92-75.
Nov. 29: At Notre Dame (SEC/Big East Challenge)
2011-12 Win/Loss: 22-12 (13-5)
Key Returners: Jack Cooley, Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins
Key Recruits: Cameron Biedsceid, Zach Auguste, Austin Burgett
Breakdown: In the first true road test of the season, the Wildcats will travel to South Bend for the SEC/Big East Challenge. Notre Dame was the surprise of the Big East last season, finishing third and making the NCAA tournament with a No. 7 seed.
Head coach Mike Brey returns every contributor from his overachieving 2011-12 team. Cooley, the "Most Improved" player in the Big East last year, is a player to watch for Notre Dame. He averages 63 percent on all shots inside the arc and averaged four offensive rebounds per game last year (via ESPN.com).
Kyle Wiltjer's defense will be pivotal in this game. If he has indeed improved, Kentucky will have a great chance to win. Notre Dame's myriad of frontcourt athletes will struggle against the length of Nerlens Noel, which makes attacking Wiltjer their most attractive option on offense.
Prediction: The Wildcats' length is too much for Notre Dame in half-court sets. UK wins a tedious game, 60-54.
Dec. 1: Baylor
2011-12 Win/Loss: 30-8 (12-6)
Key Returners: Brady Heslip, Pierre Jackson
Key Recruits: Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, L.J. Rose
Breakdown: In a Sweet 16 rematch, Baylor comes to Rupp Arena in what is sure to be one of the most anticipated non-conference games of the season.
Two of the best recruiting coaches in the nation, John Calipari and Scott Drew of Baylor, will pit two of the best recruiting classes of 2012 against each other in this matchup. Austin and Noel, widely considered to be the two best centers in the 2012 class, will face off.
There is uncertainty swirling around each of these rosters. Baylor brings back just two of their top six scorers, and Kentucky has another fresh batch of incoming talent to acclimate to the college game.
Two undersized scoring point guards, Jackson and Ryan Harrow, are X-factors in a game that features loads of talent on both sides. Jackson is the senior leader for the Bears, and they'll need him to deliver in a big way if they expect steal one in Rupp.
Prediction: Baylor comes out swinging, but the Cats battle back late. UK wins a thriller, 68-66.
Dec. 4: Samford
2011-12 Win/Loss: 11-19 (8-10)
Key Returners: Tyler Hood, Drew Windler, Raijon Kelly
Key Recruits: Timothy Williams, Jr., Jaylen Beckham
Breakdown: Samford is returning to Rupp Arena for their second year in a row, and there is no reason to believe the second time around will hold a different result.
Last year, Twany Beckham played seven minutes, the second-most amount he played on the year. This will be another game where we'll see more bench action than games previous, and Twany may get another shot to fill a bench role for Calipari.
One interesting storyline is that Jaylen Beckham will return to the Bluegrass. Beckham went to school in Lexington.
Prediction: Easy win for the Wildcats, 79-52.
Dec. 8: Portland
2011-12 Win/Loss: 7-24 (3-13)
Key Returners: Kevin Bailey, Ryan Nicholas
Key Recruits: Jake Ehlers, Bryce Pressley
Breakdown: Portland, like Samford, will be playing the Wildcats in Rupp Arena for their second year in a row. The Pilots were young last season, having only one contributing senior on the roster.
While Portland's win/loss from last season is bound to improve under head coach Eric Reveno, their success against the Wildcats will not. In the past two seasons, Kentucky has beat Portland by a combined score of 55 points.
Another interesting tidbit is that Pressley graduated from the same high school as Kyle Wiltjer.
Prediction: The Wildcats stomp Portland, 85-61.
Dec. 15: Lipscomb
2011-12 Win/Loss: 13-18 (8-10)
Key Returners: Robert Boyd
Key Recruits: John Glover, Dylan Greene
Breakdown: Lipscomb is excited to play in Rupp Arena. Just check out this interview with the Bisons head coach, Scott Sanderson, on LipscombSports.com.
Sanderson says Rupp Arena is "...by far the best atmosphere I have been in for playing a college basketball game."
Lipscomb played the Wildcats in 2005, when Rajon Rondo and Ravi Moss were tearing it up for Tubby Smith. Think of how far the Kentucky program has evolved since then, and you can understand why Sanderson is giddy to play in Lexington again.
Lipscomb will love the exposure that playing Kentucky brings, but they may not love the result.
Prediction: Ashley Judd is in attendance, and the young Wildcats don't disappoint. It's a blowout, 84-63.
Dec. 22: Marshall
2011-12 Win/Loss: 21-14 (9-7)
Key Returners: Dennis Tinnon, DeAndre Kane, Robert Goff
Key Recruits: Ryan Taylor, Kareem Canty
Breakdown: This will be the second-best non-conference game of the 2012-13 season for Kentucky. Marshall is considered the early Conference USA favorite, according to ESPN.com. They have one of the more formidable frontcourts Kentucky will face before conference play begins.
Rebounding is the Thundering Herd's strong suit. The three aforementioned returners combined for 20 boards per game, and as a team, Marshall finished eighth in the nation with nearly 40 per game.
Kentucky may struggle to put Marshall away like other non-conference opponents. The Herd have a nice balance of leadership, experience and talent, which makes them a strong candidate to surprise some members of the Big Blue Nation.
On another note, Marshall has two Kentucky natives in their recruiting class. They may not have an impact in this game, but it's good to see homegrown talent return to the state.
Prediction: The home win streak is up to a burgeoning 60 wins. Cats win, 70-62.
Dec. 29: At Louisville
2011-12 Win/Loss: 30-10 (10-8)
Key Returners: Chane Behanan, Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva, Russ Smith
Key Recruits: Terry Rozier, Montrezl Harrell
Breakdown: Ah, where to begin. This game really needs no introduction to Wildcat fans, who have had held bragging rights over Louisville fans for the past three years. Louisville fans are itching to end that streak, and this is one of the deepest Louisville teams in recent memory.
Where both teams may struggle is in the shooting department. Both teams were great defensively last season and should be again in 2012-13, but who's going to score? Louisville lost two of their top three scorers from last year, who were also their best outside threats to score (Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith).
The intrigue will be as high as always, with two teams that could be undefeated and ranked in the top three nationally at this point in the season. John Calipari and Rick Pitino, two behemoths in the college basketball world, go at it again.
Captivating player matchups are everywhere. Dieng vs. Noel. Siva vs. Harrow. Behanan vs. Poythress. Smith vs. Goodwin. Harrell vs. Kentucky, the team that showed preliminary interest in his recruitment, but nothing more.
Oh, and don't forget, these two met in the Final Four last season.
It all adds up to one of the best rivalries in the entirety of college basketball. This is as big as a non-conference game can get.
Prediction: Neither team can buy a shot, and it's a low-scoring affair throughout. Overtime is a given, as each team trades punches for all 40 minutes. Kentucky breaks the heart of Louisville fans everywhere and wins, 68-67.
Jan. 2: Eastern Michigan
2011-12 Win/Loss: 14-18 (9-7)
Key Returners: Derek Thompson, Jamell Harris
Key Recruits: Ray Lee
Breakdown: Alas, the Wildcats will not return to Freedom Hall in 2012-13. Last season, Arkansas-Little Rock gave Kentucky a scare just before conference play began.
After playing their second true road game of the season, weariness may be the biggest obstacle to overcome against Eastern Michigan.
The Eagles boast a guard-heavy lineup, which means guys like Twany Beckham, Jon Hood and Julius Mays may see plenty of chances to shine.
Prediction: Kentucky shows signs of mental fatigue after a challenging game in Louisville. They shake it off after halftime and win big, 73-55.