Kentucky’s new Southeastern Conference schedule has kept some traditional matchups — at least for now.
With Missouri and Texas A&M joining the league this season, the SEC expanded from a 16-game conference schedule to an 18-game format that will end the annual home-and-home series with Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia and South Carolina. Since Florida has been designated by the league as UK’s natural rival, that home-and-home series will continue annually.
The good news for Kentucky fans, though, is that both Tennessee and Vanderbilt will be coming back to Rupp Arena this season. And the good news for their fans is that coach John Calipari’s Wildcats will also be going to Knoxville and Nashville.
In fact, Kentucky opens conference play Jan. 10 at Vanderbilt. That’s a Thursday night ESPN special with a 9 p.m. tip. Then the Cats come back home to host Texas A&M at 4 p.m. Jan. 12.
Does it seem a little coincidental that so many league coaches, including Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings, complained last year that Kentucky didn’t have to play a Thursday night road game followed by a Saturday game as many teams, including several who had to face UK during a Thursday-Saturday stretch, did and that now the Cats start SEC play with a Thursday night-Saturday afternoon set?
And critics of Calipari and Kentucky should note that the Wildcats end conference play with a Thursday night game at Georgia on March 7, then return home to host Florida at noon March 9. That makes for two games in less than 41 hours for Calipari’s Cats.
Overall, Kentucky will get a lot of TV exposure again. The Cats play a league-leading 13 conference games on national television (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or CBS), to go along with five non-conference games already slated for ESPN or ESPN2. Those games include previously released matchups against Duke (Nov. 13, ESPN) and at Notre Dame (Nov. 29, ESPN2), along with games against Maryland (Nov. 9, ESPN), Portland (Dec. 8, ESPN2) and Marshall (Dec. 22, ESPN2).
The national intrigue about the Kentucky basketball program clearly shows in the fact that games against Portland and Marshall were picked for national telecasts.
However, the SEC is doing Kentucky no early-season favors.
After hosting Tennessee on Jan. 15 in its third conference game, UK goes on the road for four of the next five games in what could be a key stretch for Calipari’s young team.
The Cats play at Auburn and Alabama, a likely NCAA tourney team, before hosting LSU. Then it is back on the road a games at Mississippi and their first game at Texas A&M. The Saturday night game at College Station against Texas A&M could produce one of the most raucous crowds UK will face all season.
After hosting South Carolina and Auburn, Kentucky plays at Florida and Tennessee in mid-February games that could help determine who wins the conference title.
Calipari’s team will host Vanderbilt on Feb. 20 before a showdown with Missouri on Feb. 23, when ESPN College GameDay will be at Rupp Arena for the Tigers first game in Rupp Arena.
That should be one of UK’s best crowds of the season, no matter what ESPN’s Digger Phelps does during the day to insult UK fans, as he always seems to do. And everyone knows there is no way ESPN analyst Bobby Knight will show up to face the wrath of Kentucky fans for his scathing comments about Calipari and the Cats.
The Wildcats will host Mississippi State and then go to Arkansas and Georgia before ending the regular season at home against Florida.
After that, the five-day SEC tournament will open in Nashville on March 13. One minor TV change will have ESPNU airing the two afternoon quarterfinal games on March 15 while the other two along with the first two days air on the SEC Network.
Overall, it’s a solid schedule for Kentucky, even if it lacks a marquee home November-December matchup other than the game with Baylor on Dec. 1. Calipari’s Cats play Duke and Maryland in neutral-site games and play at Notre Dame and Louisville. In conference play, UK fans get a GameDay date with Missouri and home games with Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida and Texas A&M.
Kentucky has definite SEC road challenges coming from Alabama, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida and Texas A&M.
It’s way too early to even predict records, but it’s not too early to seem fairly confident that Calipari’s team will lose more than the two games it did last year. This team could well be more like the one two years ago that struggled at times, even during SEC play, before catching fire at the right time and making the Final Four.
2012-13 Kentucky basketball schedule
Date (Day), Opponent, TV, Time
Oct. 24 (Wed.), BLUE-WHITE (scrimmage), TBA, 7:00
Nov. 1 (Thurs.), NORTHWOOD (exhibition), TBA, TBA
Nov. 5 (Mon.), TRANSYLVANIA (exhibition), TBA, TBA
Nov. 9 (Fri.), Maryland-1, ESPN, 8:30
Nov. 13 (Tues.), Duke-2, ESPN, 9:30
Nov. 16 (Fri.), LAFAYETTE, TBA, TBA
Nov. 21 (Wed.), MOREHEAD STATE, TBA, TBA
Nov. 23 (Fri.), LONG ISLAND, TBA, TBA
Nov. 29 (Thurs.), at Notre Dame, ESPN2, 7:00
Dec. 1 (Sat.), BAYLOR, CBS, TBA
Dec. 4 (Tues.), SAMFORD, TBA, TBA
Dec. 8 (Sat.), PORTLAND, ESPN, Noon
Dec. 15 (Sat.), LIPSCOMB, TBA, TBA
Dec. 22 (Sat.), MARSHALL, ESPN2, 4:00
Dec. 29 (Sat.), at Louisville, TBA, TBA
Jan. 2 (Wed.), EASTERN MICHIGAN, TBA, TBA
Jan. 10 (Thurs.), at Vanderbilt, ESPN/ESPN2, 9:00
Jan. 12 (Sat.), TEXAS A&M, SEC Network, 4:00
Jan. 15 (Tues.), TENNESSEE, ESPN, 7:00
Jan. 19 (Sat.), at Auburn, ESPNU, TBA
Jan. 22 (Tues.), at Alabama, ESPN, 9:00
Jan. 26 (Sat.), LSU, SEC Network, 4:00
Jan. 29 (Tues.), at Ole Miss, ESPN, 9:00
Feb. 2 (Sat.), at Texas A&M, ESPN, 6:00
Feb. 5 (Tues.), SOUTH CAROLINA, ESPNU, 9:00
Feb. 9 (Sat.), AUBURN, SEC Network, 4:00
Feb. 12 (Tues.), at Florida, ESPN, 7:00
Feb. 16 (Sat.), at Tennessee, CBS, 1:00
Feb. 20 (Wed.), VANDERBILT, SEC Network, 8:00
Feb. 23 (Sat.), MISSOURI, ESPN, 9:00
Feb. 27 (Wed.), MISSISSIPPI STATE, SEC Network, 8:00
Mar. 2 (Sat.), at Arkansas, CBS, 4:00
Mar. 7 (Thurs.), at Georgia, ESPN/ESPN2, 7:00
Mar. 9 (Sat.), FLORIDA, CBS, Noon
Mar. 13-17, SEC Tournament-3, SEC/ABC
1-at Brooklyn, N.Y.; 2-at Atlanta; 3-at Nashville, Tenn.