In a little over a month from now Kentucky Basketball will be back in full force. We will all get to see our first glimpse into how Bam, Fox, Monk, Sacha, and Gabriel will represent the legendary Basketball program on the court (oops, I forgot a key name…. Brad Calipari). We will all get to see whether Isaac Humphries really has improved from where he was at last year. Also, whether Isaiah Briscoe can step up and be the leader of this team. Until November 11th, when we tip-off against Stephen F. Austin, we will only have a limited number of practices/scrimmages and player interviews to put under a microscope and over-analyze.
With all that being said, I wanted to take a look at the 5 biggest non-conference games and pick apart our opponents. I will look at how we match-up against each team and see how likely it is for Kentucky to walk away with a win.
1. November 15th – Michigan State
The last time we took on Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans was in Chicago at the Champions Classic back in 2013. That game saw Julius Randle score 27 points, 23 of that in the 2nd half, and a set of plays where Keith Appling drilled a three over Willie Cauley-Stein and an immediate turnover by Julius Randle turned into 2 points for Gary Harris, which sealed the victory for the Spartans.
This year Izzo has brought in a group of young talented players to pair with a underwhelming mix of traditional Michigan State players. The game will be played at Madison Square Garden in the same event that we played them in last time. This will be the first real test for Kentucky but for Michigan State they have to play Arizona four days earlier. Here’s a look at the group of freshman Izzo has coming in.
This appears to be an early season battle of youngsters as most of Michigan State’s production will more than likely come from the four players above and Kentucky will have its own 2016 freshman class that will put their stamp on college basketball. I predict that Kentucky’s returning players (Briscoe, Willis, and Humphries) will help put this one in the win column for the Cats!
2. December 3rd – UCLA
There was a sea of gold in early December of 2015. NBA greats like Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West, and Oscar Robertson where all in attendance at Pauley Pavilion. What they saw was two of the greatest programs in college basketball history lock up in a rematch from the year prior where UCLA was beat-down by the Cats in a game that gave us this great halftime score.
That’s right Anderson Cooper, eye-popping stuff there! Unfortunately for Kentucky, UCLA didn’t take to kindly to that kind of beating and returned the favor last year. They held Kentucky to a horrific 38% field goal percentage and made getting fouled an art form. This year Steve Alford will rely on his top -notch freshman point guard, Lonzo Ball, and a steady dose of experience with Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton. Those two combined to score 30 points against UK last year.
The thing to remember with this one is that it is at Rupp Arena. John Calipari is 119-4 at Rupp in his Kentucky career. That is why I expect this one to go in the win column for the Wildcats!
3. December 17th – North Carolina
The last time we played against Roy Williams and his Tar Heels (one of the worst team names out there) it was a match-up of the platoons against Marcus Paige. For most Kentucky basketball fans we know that the only team that beat our platoons was Frank Kaminsky and the Wisconsin Badgers. The talent that was on the 38-1 team was remarkable when you go back and watch some of those games. Oh what could have been….
Anyways! North Carolina is coming off a crushing defeat in one of the best college basketball championship games ever. They return 6 players that played in the National Championship game including 3 starters. With that experience and the 4th best center (Tony Bradley) coming in as a freshman this year, I expect North Carolina to find themselves making a deep run in the tournament again this year. As for our match-up, I believe that the experience will prove too much for Kentucky to handle and we suffer our first loss of the season at the hands of Roy Williams.
4. December 21st – Louisville
Louisville sucks and won’t win against Kentucky.
5. January 28th – Kansas
Last year Kentucky traveled to Phog Allen Fieldhouse for the first time since 2006. They pushed the talented Jayhawk team to the brink but ended up losing in overtime thanks to Wayne Selden and his 33 points. Kansas made it all the way to the Elite 8 last year and lost to the eventual champion squad of Villanova in a defensive showdown.
Kansas is returning 3 starters (Frank Mason, Landen Lucas, and Devonte Graham) and add the #1 player in the country (Josh Jackson) along with Udoka Azubuike, a five star center from Florida. All of this combines for one thing, that’s a great game that will be played at Rupp Arena. I think this one is too close to call, by the time this game is played we will get to see how good our freshman really are and I’ll be able to call this one.
I see this version of Cal’s Cats doing some special things and completely expect Kentucky to only lose one or two non-conference games. The SEC is always a tough schedule to go through with everybody aiming to take down the giant that is Kentucky Basketball. I will do an in-conference version of this article later this week. One final thought, it is going to be strange to watch this team and not see Tyler Ulis out there on the court, BBN misses you already Tyler!