Kentucky’s November-December schedule certainly includes several anticipated marquee matchups to prepare the Wildcats for Southeastern Conference play that will start in January.
The Wildcats will 15 non-conference games against teams from 11 leagues, including the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Big Ten and Big 12. Six of those teams made NCAA tournament play last season.
The most anticipated game already is the one Dec. 3 in Rupp Arena against North Carolina, the team UK¿beat last season to earn a Final Four berth. The Wildcats have the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and are regarded as a potential top-five team going into the season, but the Tar Heels likely will be ranked either first or second.
The defending ACC champions return Harrison Barnes (15.7 points, 5.8 rebounds per game), Tyler Zeller (15.7 points, 7.2 rebounds), John Henson (11.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots). All were considered likely first-round NBA draft picks if they had opted to leave Carolina. Zeller is one of the nation’s top center, Henson is a dominant force inside also, Marshall was ninth in the nation in assists last year after taking over at point guard and Barnes is as versatile as any player in the country.
Coach Roy Williams will also have Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and Kendall Marshall, who averaged a combined 20.7 points per game, back. The Tar Heels also add highly regarded recruits James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston.
The Cats will renew their rivalry with Kansas in a neutral site game at New York’s Madison Square Garden in mid-November. The Jayhawks were 35-3 last year and won the Big 12. They were ranked second in the final AP¿poll behind Ohio State and lost in the Elite Eight, but they lost five of their top seven scorers from that team.
Kentucky will again play Louisville on New Year’s Eve, but this time the game will be in Rupp Arena. Last year the Cats stunned the Cardinals 78-63 behind a dominant performance from Josh Harrellson.
Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals return Kyle Kuric, who made 70 3-pointers and averaged 10.8 points per game, along with guards Peyton Siva (9.9 points, 5.2 assists) and Chris Smith (9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds). Pitino also adds his best recruiting class in year headed by athletic perimeter player Wayne Blackshear, a proven scorer. Bowling Green’s Chane Behanan is a physical player being counted on to help fill a void inside.
Another entertaining game could be against St. John’s in the SEC/Big East Challenge at Rupp Arena two days before the Cats host North Carolina.
Coach Steve Lavin’s team was a surprising 21-12 last year and tied Louisville for third in the Big East. The Red Storm have the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class — and will need it because the Redmen lost 10 players off last year’s team for various reasons.
Kentucky will face its only true road test at Indiana Dec. 10 — all other games are either at Rupp Arena or neutral sites. Coach Tom Crean’s Hoosiers were only 12-20 last year and lost 81-62 to Kentucky. However, they return three players that averaged in double figures — Christian Watford, Verdell Jones and Jordan Hulls.
Another returnee, Maurice Creek, added 8.3 points per game but he’s been plagued with knee injuries the last two years. Indiana also adds standout 6-11 freshman center Cody Zeller.
2011-12 Kentucky non-conference schedule
All times to be announced
2 (Wed) TRANSYLVANIA (Exh.) TBA
7 (Mon) MOREHOUSE (Exh.) TBA
11 (Fri) MARIST-1 TBA
15 (Tues) vs. Kansas-2 TBA
19 (Sat) vs. Penn State-3 TBA
20 (Sun) vs. Old Dom./S. Fla.-3 TBA
23 (Wed) RADFORD TBA
26 (Sat) PORTLAND TBA
1 (Thurs) ST. JOHN’S-4 TBA
3 (Sat) NORTH CAROLINA TBA
10 (Sat) at Indiana TBA
17 (Sat) TENN.-CHATTANOOGA TBA
20 (Tues) SAMFORD TBA
22 (Thurs) LOYOLA (Md.) TBA
28 (Wed) LAMAR TBA
31 (Sat) LOUISVILLE TBA
3 (Mon) Ark.-Little Rock-5 TBA
All dates and times subject to change.
1–Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament (Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.); 2–Champions Classic (Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.); 3– Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament (Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Conn.); 4–Big East/SEC Challenge (Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.); 5-Freedom Hall, Louisville.