Nobody in college basketball is better at putting together a non-conference schedule that Kentucky head coach John Calipari.
In a sport where it’s no uncommon to see top 25 programs avoid playing a relevant opponent until conference play has started, Kentucky has been one of the standard-bearers when it comes to building a schedule in November and December.
With the announcements today that the Wildcats will be playing games against Texas and UCLA this season, you need to take a look at who the Wildcats will be playing during the first two months of the regular season:
Kentucky vs. Kansas in Indianapolis for the Champions Classic
Kentucky vs. UCLA in Chicago for the CBS Sports Classic
That’s wild, and it will only get tougher if Kris Dunn plays up to his potential for Providence this season or UCLA is able to get the kind of performance from the likes of Kevin Looney, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton are good enough to carry the team.
Kentucky is the preseason No. 1 team in the country. They are the unquestionably going to be the title favorite entering the season, and it will not take us long to get a feel for whether or not that opinion is accurate.
A strong schedule can also be a double-edged sword. Last season, for example, Kansas had one of the toughest schedules in the history of the game, so while they were tested by the time that Big 12 play came around, it may have also cost them. The Jayhawks never had the chance to learn or build confidence against their weaker opponents.
The good news for Kentucky?
This will be their most experienced team under John Calipari, as they may not end up starting a single freshman.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.