Previewing The 2011-2012 Kentucky Wildcats: Part 2

In the last part of this series, we examined the players and positions.  In this part, we'll be taking a look at the schedule, and how Kentucky figures to fare.

For the purposes of this article, I have divided all the teams that Kentucky plays into categories, named after the castes of the middle ages feudal system.  You'll have no problem understanding the metaphor, I'm sure.  Then, we'll delve into each category and discover where the peril, if any, lies. 

A word on the schedule

Kentucky's out of conference schedule this year consists of a very good mix of bluebloods, nobodies, and everything in between.  To me, that's exactly what a good pre-conference schedule looks like.  It isn't the toughest in the land, but it is very tough in places and soft in places, giving the young Wildcats several good tests to go along with several easy games.

The SEC this year figures to be even tougher than last year, and it is likely that the SEC will be one of the top three BCS conferences, although probably still short of the Big East and nip-and-tuck with the ACC.  Kentucky will have plenty of tough SEC tests, particularly on the road.

With all that said, let's get to it.

The schedule, broken down

We're breaking down the schedule in to five sections, from least to greatest:  peasants, knights, nobles and royalty.  We won't be considering exhibition games in this exercise, only "counting" games.  Assignments will be made on historical records as well as current team expectations with emphasis on the latter.

Peasants

The peasants in the Medieval period were the ordinary people, hence the ordinary teams fall into this category.  The peasants in this years' schedule are:

Date Opponent / Event Location Time Category
11/11/11 vs. Marist Lexington, Ky. 7:00 p.m. ET Peasant
11/19/11 vs. Penn State Uncasville, Conn. 12:00 p.m. ET Peasant
11/20/11 Old Dominion/South Florida Uncasville, Conn. 12:00 p.m. ET Peasant
11/23/11 vs. Radford Lexington, Ky. 7:00 p.m. ET Peasant
11/26/11 vs. Portland Lexington, Ky. 7:00 p.m. ET Peasant
12/17/11 vs. Chattanooga Lexington, Ky. 8:00 p.m. ET Peasant
12/20/11 vs. Samford Lexington, Ky. 7:00 p.m. ET Peasant
12/22/11 vs. Loyola (Md) Lexington, Ky. 1:00 p.m. ET Peasant
12/28/11 vs. Lamar Lexington, Ky. 8:30 p.m. ET Peasant
01/03/12 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock Louisville, Ky. 7:00 p.m. ET Peasant
01/07/12 vs. South Carolina * Lexington, Ky. 4:00 p.m. ET Peasant
01/11/12 at Auburn * Auburn, Ala. 8:00 p.m. ET Peasant
01/14/12 at Tennessee * Knoxville, Tenn. 12:00 p.m. ET Peasant
01/28/12 at LSU * Baton Rouge, La. 4:00 p.m. ET Peasant
01/31/12 vs. Tennessee * Lexington, Ky. 7:00 p.m. ET Peasant
02/04/12 at South Carolina * Columbia, S.C. 6:00 p.m. ET Peasant

Just like in the real world, peasants can be dangerous.  Sometimes they rise up with pitchforks and torches and storm the castle, and even though that happens only rarely, it does happen.

Looking at this group, the biggest opportunities for upset come very early in the season versus Penn St. or the ODU/South Florida winner in the Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament.  Later in the year, the always-dangerous SEC peasants like South Carolina in Columbia (particularly dangerous since Bruce Ellington should be back by then) or Tennessee in Knoxville offer the best chances for a UK train derailment.

But I'm predicting none of these at this point.  I expect the Wildcats to go 16-0 against the peasants.

Knights

The knights for 2011-12 are mostly the better SEC teams with St. Johns thrown in.  Pre-season, I would have considered St. Johns a noble, but three of their highly-touted freshmen have been declared academically ineligible to play.

Date Opponent / Event Location Time Category
12/01/11 vs. St. John's Lexington, Ky. 7:30 p.m. ET Knight
01/17/12 vs. Arkansas * Lexington, Ky. 9:00 p.m. ET Knight
01/24/12 at Georgia * Athens, Ga. 9:00 p.m. ET Knight
02/18/12 vs. Ole Miss * Lexington, Ky. 4:00 p.m. ET Knight
02/21/12 at Mississippi State * Starkville, Miss. 9:00 p.m. ET Knight
03/01/12 vs. Georgia * Lexington, Ky. 9:00 p.m. ET Knight

This group presents a rather more difficult challenge than the peasants.  By virtue of its early-season location, the St. John's game could be troublesome.  Arkansas would downright worry me if it were in Fayetteville rather than the comfy confines of Rupp Arena, but the best opportunity for an upset is at Mississippi St. on February 12th.  MSU has a lot of talent this year, and arguably deserves to be in the nobility instead of a knight, but I'm not convinced yet that the chemistry issues on this team have actually been solved.  Finally, Georgia in Athens is never a game to take for granted.

In spite of that, all these teams have serious deficiencies and a massive talent deficit against Kentucky.  Once again, I'll pick UK to run the table and send the knights to defeat. 6-0

Nobles

Now things get serious.  The nobles are a significant threat to pull an upset, particularly on the road or at a neutral site.  These are either great programs, or good programs with a very strong team this year.

Date Opponent / Event Location Time Category
12/10/11 at Indiana Bloomington, Ind. 5:15 p.m. ET Noble
12/31/11 vs. Louisville Lexington, Ky. 12:00 p.m. ET Noble
01/21/12 vs. Alabama * Lexington, Ky. 12:00 p.m. ET Noble
02/07/12 vs. Florida * Lexington, Ky. 7:00 p.m. ET Noble
02/11/12 at Vanderbilt * Nashville, Tenn. 9:00 p.m. ET Noble
02/25/12 vs. Vanderbilt * Lexington, Ky. 12:00 p.m. ET Noble
03/04/12 at Florida * Gainesville, Fla. 12:00 p.m. ET Noble

Indiana is an early opponent that gives me concern.  If they are finally fully healthy, this team is capable of pulling the early upset, especially in Bloomington, where the young Wildcats will have experienced nothing like the intensity that the crowd there will bring.  Rivalry games produce upsets.

Louisville could arguably be considered royalty, but I am not sold on their team this year.  Regardless, they are our major rival, but thankfully we get them in the cozy confines of Rupp Arena.  I am actually less concerned about this game than IU in terms of an upset, mainly because of the venue.

At Vanderbilt on 2/11, and at Florida on 3/4 are two games to mark on your calendar.  These are very serious opportunities for an upset, and it is fairly likely we will lose one of these games at least.

I'll pick the Wildcats to go 5-2 against this group.  It is possible that they will run the table, but I think that sooner or later the youth of Kentucky will show up in a game or three.

Royalty

You know who the real basketball bluebloods are, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation.  You can pick them out of the schedule without anybody's help, and here they are for this year:

Date Opponent / Event Location Time Category
11/15/11 vs. Kansas New York, N.Y. 9:00 p.m. ET Royalty
12/03/11 vs. North Carolina Lexington, Ky. 12:00 p.m. ET Royalty

Kentucky typically faces only one or two genuine bluebloods, which I define as perennial powers with multiple national championships.  These two fit the bill without question.

I like Kentucky's chances against Kansas this year.  Kansas is much younger, although still very talented, but they face a talent deficit against the Wildcats.

That is not true with North Carolina.  The Tar Heels are more talented, more experienced, and have perhaps their best team since 2004.  They will be a handful.

I'm going against the grain here and pick Kentucky to sweep this group.  Kansas will have all the weaknesses of UK early in the season, namely inexperience, to go along with less talented players.  North Carolina has  found it difficult to win in Lexington when UK was at a similar strength recently.  The UK/UNC game will of course be the marquis game of the pre-season, and draw more national attention than any other game at Rupp Arena in many years.  I'm picking UK to go 2-0 against the best of the best.

Conclusion

This year, Kentucky figures to be one of the top two teams in the nation all year.  The schedule presents numerous perils, but none of them seem to be so significant that you would favor any team but the Wildcats other than possibly the North Carolina game, and since that game is at home, it's tough to make Kentucky an underdog in their own house with a team like this.

Of course, there may be surprises along the way, and injuries to major players cannot be predicted and could completely change the season outlook.  Even though Kentucky is flexible and interchangeable, they are not particularly deep personnel-wise, so losing a major piece to the UK puzzle, particularly at, say, point guard, is a possibility that would radically affect the team's fortunes.

But barring that, this should be the most exciting season since John Calipari took the helm at UK, and I can't see more than four losses for the Wildcats anywhere based on what I know of the talent of this group.  I predict only two losses here, but UNC, Kansas or Louisville could provide more if the Wildcats don't bring their best.

Finally, a reminder that the Blue/White scrimmage is tomorrow night at 7:00 PM.  Be sure to join us for the open thread and conversation during that event.

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