Kentucky’s non-conference schedule is once again loaded

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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
  • Texas at Kentucky in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge
  • Louisville at Kentucky
  • North Carolina at Kentucky
  • Providence at Kentucky

Kansas is the No. 5 team in the country in the NBCSports.com Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25. North Carolina? They’re No. 6. Texas is No. 8 and Louisville is No. 11.

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.

No. 8 Kentucky holds off Troy down the stretch for 70-62 win

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kevin Knox scored 17 points and No. 8 Kentucky built a big lead in the second half before having to withstand a late rally by Troy to hold on for a 70-62 victory on Monday night.

After having to rally in each of its previous games, the Wildcats (4-1) led throughout against the Trojans (2-3). They built a double-digit lead early and extended it to 21 twice in the second half, a needed cushion as Troy fought back to within eight on Wesley Person’s three-point play with 1:08 remaining.

Knox came up with the last of Kentucky’s season-high 53 rebounds that preserved its second victory in the Adolph Rupp Classic named for the legendary coach.

Quade Green had 13 points and reserve forward Wenyen Gabriel 12 for the Wildcats. Hamidou Diallo had a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with eight points.

Person had 17 points and Jordon Varnado and Kevin Baker 15 each for Troy.

BIG PICTURE

Troy: Entering the contest averaging 45 percent from 3-point range, the Trojans made just 1 of 14 in the first half and 4 of 27 overall. For a while they were nearly doubled up on the boards as a result and were beaten 53-30. Varnado extended his double-digit scoring streak dating back to last season to 23 games.

Kentucky: After making just 3 of 15 from the free throw line and committing a season-high 22 turnovers against East Tennessee State, the Wildcats improved in those and other statistical categories. They converted 15 of 23 chances, made just 16 turnovers this time and controlled rebounding by a 2-to-1 margin. But their lost focus and allowed the Trojans to make it interesting.

UP NEXT

Troy visits East Tennessee State on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before wrapping up play Monday against Illinois-Chicago.

Kentucky hosts Fort Wayne on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before taking Thanksgiving off.

Bluiett scores 21, No. 15 Xavier grinds down Hampton 96-60

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CINCINNATI (AP) — Trevon Bluiett followed his fabulous game against Wisconsin with a 21-point performance on Monday night, and 15th-ranked Xavier turned to its reserves while pulling away to a 96-60 victory over Hampton.

The Musketeers (4-0) got ahead by 32 points and took advantage of the chance to get playing time for their newcomers. Freshman Naji Marshall had 12 points and seven rebounds.

Xavier was coming off an 80-70 win at Wisconsin on Thursday night, when Bluiett led the way by scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half. Against Hampton, Bluiett played 27 minutes.

Jermaine Marrow led Hampton (1-4) with 20 points. The Pirates quickly piled up the fouls while guarding the Musketeers — four of them had four fouls midway through the second half. Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. picked up a pair of technical fouls for arguing calls with 2:22 left and calmly walked off the court.

Xavier extended its streak of 33 straight wins over non-conference opponents at the Cintas Center.

BIG PICTURE

Hampton: Marrow is the key to the Pirates’ offense. He led the team in scoring in the first four games, averaging 22 points, including a 31-point performance against Florida A&M. Against the Musketeers, he went 7 of 25 from the field.

Xavier: The Musketeers lost their patience against Hampton’s zone defense in the first half, repeatedly dribbling into the middle of the court and losing the ball. They had seven turnovers in the half, which ended with the Musketeers up 43-31.

UP NEXT

Hampton plays Northern Arizona on Thursday.

Xavier plays George Washington on Thursday in Las Vegas. The Musketeers lead the all-time series 27-9 and have won eight straight, most recently in the 2012-13 season.

No. 12 Cincy holds off Buffalo 73-67.

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GEORGETOWN, Cayman Islands (AP) — Gary Clark scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and No. 12 Cincinnati held off Buffalo 73-68 on Monday night to close the opening round of the Cayman Islands Classic.

Kyle Washington added 14 points and Jarron Cumberland 13 for the Bearcats (4-0), who had breezed in their previous games.

C.J. Massinburg scored 27 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls (2-1). Jeremy Harris added a career-high 17 and Nick Perkins 14 as Buffalo cut a 13-point halftime deficit to four with 24 seconds left.

Two free throws by Clark made it 67-57 with 1:52 to play. Perkins hit a 3-pointer with 1:27 to go and Massinburg cashed in on a turnover with another 3 at 56. Clark made two more free throws with 35 seconds to go but Massinburg answered at the line 10 seconds later.

Jacob Evans made a free throw and, after a Buffalo miss, Cumberland slipped free for a dunk, making it a seven-point game with 10 seconds to go. Clark got a late free throw and Massinburg made a layup at the buzzer.

Massinburg had 19 points in the second half but the Bulls couldn’t keep Cincinnati off the line. The Bearcats were 17 of 21 in the second half, 27 of 35 for the game. Buffalo finished 11 for 17 and had two players foul out and four other players with four fouls.

Buffalo grabbed an early lead but two Nysier Brooks free throws put the Bearcats up 13-12 at the 13:20 mark and shortly after that a 12-0 run, built by five different players, made it 27-14. Cincinnati didn’t score after Cumberland’s layup at the 3:52 mark but the Bulls only got a layup and it was 39-26 at the half. Cumberland had 10 at intermission.

BIG PICTURE

Buffalo: Perkins and Dontay Caruthers fouled out for Cincinnati, Massinburg, Montell McRae, Davonta Jordan and Brock Bertram had four each. … Buffalo was outrebounded 43-39 but was plus-3 on the offensive end. … The Bulls were looking to go 3-0 for the first time since 1986-87. They went 2-0 for just the fifth time at the Division I level.

Cincinnati: Clark had 17 points in the second half and picked up his 20th double-double. … The Bearcats won their first three by an average of 41.3 with a rebounding difference of 25 a game. … Cincinnati isn’t going to get a chance to boost its strength of schedule as Iowa was bounced by Louisiana-Lafayette 80-71 in the opening game of the tournament.

UP NEXT

Buffalo takes on UAB on Tuesday.

Cincinnati takes on Richmond.

LaVar Ball’s CNN interview on refusal to thank Trump as as disastrous as you’d expect

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LaVar Ball made it to CNN.

He spent 23 minutes being interviewed like by Chris Cuomo before the network cut to a panel discussion for the show’s second segment, and all of it over whether or not Donald Trump deserved to get a thank you from Ball for any help that he may have provided in getting LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill out of a Chinese jail.

The details of what actually happened do not matter at this point.

What does matter is that LaVar knows how to make a mountain out of a molehill. He knows that the simple act of refusing to thank the President of the United States will turn this into a thing. He knows that it will get him attention and get his name in headlines on every website in America. He knows that it will land him interviews with CNN and only further push the Big Baller Brand into the American consciousness. Getting on CNN means he has access to a different demographic than who typically watches ESPN or uses twitter and FaceBook.

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Hell, my mom texted me about LaVar being on CNN.

This is a well thought out plan. While the interview was as much of a trainwreck – absolutely hilarious, but a trainwreck nonetheless – the only line that you really need to pay attention to from the entire ordeal was this:

“What is the skepticism about? Why are we even talking about this with all these political matters going on in the world?”

Even LaVar Ball knows that the attention that he gets is ludicrous.

And he’ll laugh about it all the way to the bank.

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No. 8 Kentucky holds off Troy down the stretch for 70-62 win

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kevin Knox scored 17 points and No. 8 Kentucky built a big lead in the second half before having to withstand a late rally by Troy to hold on for a 70-62 victory on Monday night.

After having to rally in each of its previous games, the Wildcats (4-1) led throughout against the Trojans (2-3). They built a double-digit lead early and extended it to 21 twice in the second half, a needed cushion as Troy fought back to within eight on Wesley Person’s three-point play with 1:08 remaining.

Knox came up with the last of Kentucky’s season-high 53 rebounds that preserved its second victory in the Adolph Rupp Classic named for the legendary coach.

Quade Green had 13 points and reserve forward Wenyen Gabriel 12 for the Wildcats. Hamidou Diallo had a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with eight points.

Person had 17 points and Jordon Varnado and Kevin Baker 15 each for Troy.

BIG PICTURE

Troy: Entering the contest averaging 45 percent from 3-point range, the Trojans made just 1 of 14 in the first half and 4 of 27 overall. For a while they were nearly doubled up on the boards as a result and were beaten 53-30. Varnado extended his double-digit scoring streak dating back to last season to 23 games.

Kentucky: After making just 3 of 15 from the free throw line and committing a season-high 22 turnovers against East Tennessee State, the Wildcats improved in those and other statistical categories. They converted 15 of 23 chances, made just 16 turnovers this time and controlled rebounding by a 2-to-1 margin. But their lost focus and allowed the Trojans to make it interesting.

UP NEXT

Troy visits East Tennessee State on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before wrapping up play Monday against Illinois-Chicago.

Kentucky hosts Fort Wayne on Wednesday in the third game of the Rupp Classic before taking Thanksgiving off.