Utah Valley released its non-conference schedule early this week, billing it as, “the toughest 24 hours in NCAA basketball history.” That’s not really an exaggeration either.
The Wolverines open the 2017-18 season against Kentucky on Friday, Nov. 11 in Lexington. Less than 24 hours later, they will be prepping for a matchup with Duke inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Wildcats and Blue Devils are both pegged as top-5 teams entering next season.
“This is what college basketball is supposed to be,” Utah Valley head coach Mark Pope said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited to go out and play two of the best teams in the entire country in a 24-hour period. Our goal is to be the best team we can possibly be at the end of the season. We had great success with that last year and part of doing that is putting together the hardest non-conference schedule we can and we’ve accomplished that.”
Utah Valley finished 17-17 (6-8 WAC) last year but did close out the 2016-17 campaign strong by winning six of its last eight, reaching the College Basketball Invitational semifinals. The Wolverines return three double-digit scorers, including Conner Toolson, who led them in scoring at 11.9 points per game, as well as top rebounder and shot blocker Isaac Neilson.
Still, they figure to a tomato can for two heavyweights in their first two bouts. Nevertheless, Pope and his program should gain some considerable attention for this scheduling. Utah Valley will likely be on television (or at least be available for streaming) for both contests. The only time I can recall the Wolverines even getting national mention last season was when CSU Bakersfield needed four overtimes to get past them in the WAC semifinals. For Pope, it also shows recruits two things: a. we aren’t afraid to play anyone and b. while you may not be the five-star recruit you hoped for, you will likely play in some of the cathedrals of college basketball in your four years in Orem.
The season opener will be a homecoming of sorts for Pope. He played for Kentucky from 1994-96 and was a member of a national championship team as a senior.