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.
Virginia Tech sophomore forward Kerry Blackshear will miss the start of training camp as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery, according to a report from Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The 6-foot-10 Blackshear played in all 35 games for the Hokies last season as he battled through the foot injury to average 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. According to Barber’s report, Blackshear had surgery on his right foot five days after the 2015-16 season ended, but he’s still wearing a walking boot to help recover. There has been no timetable given for Blackshear’s return.
Blackshear will be a key piece for a Virginia Tech team that is a bit thin up front this season. Freshman Khadim Sy can provide some minutes up front, but he’s inexperienced and center Nick Fullard has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Getting a healthy Blackshear will be a key storyline for a Virginia Tech team that many will have in the preseason top 25.
Indiana has been hit with the injury buy a bit during the start of practice and it doesn’t only involved the recent announcement of knee surgery for senior Collin Hartman.
According to a report from the Indiana Daily Student the Hoosiers are also dealing with a knee injury for junior college transfer forward Freddie McSwain and sophomore Juwan Morgan hasn’t been cleared for practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.
The 6-foot-6 McSwain had a knee injury flare up when he came to Indiana and had surgery to clean it up. Crean told the Indiana Daily Student that McSwain was still a few weeks from returning.
That means Indiana has to find early practice minutes to replace Hartman, Morgan and McSwain up front which gives more reps to players like O.G. Anunoby and freshman big man De’Ron Davis.
Since Anunoby and Davis both dealt with some offseason injuries and guard Robert Johnson was recently cleared to return, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is remaining cautious during the early part of practice this season. Crean also has to monitor the return of starting guard James Blackmon Jr. after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL.
“We would have already practiced this morning and they would be ready to go tonight, if this were a year ago,” Crean said in the report. “We have to tailor make this thing. We can’t be in too much of a rush with these guys.”
Obviously, the frontcourt injuries are something to keep an eye on for Indiana during the early part of the season. None of the three injuries seem severe, but Hartman’s timetable to return hasn’t been listed and McSwain and Morgan are missing valuable early time in practice.
It’ll be interesting to see if this helps younger players like Anunoby and Davis get more acquainted with the first team early on since both could have an impact this season.
Texas and head coach Shaka Smart continue to recruit at a high level, especially in the state of Texas, as the Longhorns landed a commitment from Class of 2017 four-star guard Jase Febres on Friday night.
The 6-foot-5 Febres is considered the No. 63 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings as he burst on the national radar this summer with some strong shooting performances. Febres shot over 40 percent from three-point range during the month of July after battling through injury during the spring. Besides owning good size for a wing shooter, Febres also takes pride in defending and he can rebound a bit from the wing as well.
Febres is going to have to improve his overall offensive package if a defense plays him off the three-point line, but he has upside as a three-and-D guy with the Longhorns.
The Class of 2017 is starting to round into shape for Texas as Febres joins four-star power forward Jericho Sims and four-star forward Royce Hamm. Since taking over the Texas job, Smart has done a great job of keeping local talent home as he now has five four- and five-star prospects from the state in the last two classes.
Kentucky fans have unique ways of making their annual Big Blue Madness event the most chaotic tip-off event of the season. While Big Blue Nation is waiting in line for tickets to this year’s festivities in Tent City, one couple decided to go the extra mile.
After securing the first spot in line for tickets, Ray Branham and Vicki Harvey opted to get married. According to a post from Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio, the couple had already been talking about tying the knot, but decided to make the move once they had the top spot in line. As you can see by the wedding video, it was a very Kentucky-themed ceremony as the duo got married in front of friends and other Kentucky fans.
I can’t say I’m surprised two Kentucky fans decided to get married in line for something like Big Blue Madness and this (unplanned) wedding gives this year’s event something unique that we will always remember.
On the day that college basketball practice is to start, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers announced that his roster would be changing.
Joe Hampton, a 6-foot-8, 290 pound power forward from Maryland, will be leaving the program.
“Joe has made the decision to leave the program based on personal reasons,” Chambers said. “We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.”
Hampton was a three-star prospect that missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy with torn ACL, but he reportedly enrolled at Penn State in May, before the rest of the Nittany Lion recruit class.