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Just how strong is Kentucky's Non-conference slate?

Preseason polls and computer rankings are out. What do they tell us about the schools John Calipari has lined up to play his 2014 Kentucky squad?

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

James has shared his thoughts on the Cats' Non-conference schedule already, so you can think of this as a companion piece.  Last year I looked at where the preseason national and conference polls as well as a couple of computer rankings had to say about the strength of Kentucky's non-conference schedule.  This is the same thing, with a few small changes.

First up are the national rankings.  I've listed the AP and Coaches' polls as well as computer rankings from Ken Pomeroy and TeamRankings.  The TR ranks replace Dan Hanner's list from last year, which is now behind a pay wall at ESPN.  David Hess does some great work at TR and you can read more about what goes into their rating system here.  I've included the "also receiving votes" teams from the AP and Coaches polls and extrapolated their ranking from them.

National Rankings
Opponent Conference Location AP Poll Coaches Poll KenPom TeamRankings
UNC Asheville Big South Home

252 213
Northern Kentucky Atlantic Sun Home

301 291
Michigan St. Big Ten Neutral 2 2 2 6
Robert Morris Northeast Home

167 167
UT Arlington Sun Belt Home

205 199
Cleveland St. Horizon Home

168 147
Eastern Michigan MAC Home

241 237
Providence Big East Neutral

41 38
Baylor Big 12 Neutral 25 26 28 13
Boise St. MWC Home 32 35 42 40
North Carolina ACC Away 12 11 10 12
Belmont Ohio Valley Home

95 63
Louisville AAC Home 3 3 1 1

  • The nationally ranked teams are all pretty similar across the board, although TR loves Baylor a lot more than anyone else while discounting Michigan State a bit.
  • 5 of the 13 teams received votes from the national polls, and 4 of those 5 teams make up the back end of UK's schedule.
  • There's basic agreement between KP and TR amongst the unranked teams with Belmont the only real difference of opinion.
  • Kentucky's median KP ranking is 95, for TR its 63.  Basically Belmont represents the median quality opponent on the schedule.  Considering how good they are each year, that's a pretty good indication of a quality schedule.
  • The schedule starts soft (except for Michigan State) and then ramps up in the middle of December.  I think that's a good progression for this team.
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again: I *love* the Boise St game.  If you are talking to a season ticket holder who is complaining about the home slate of games, see if you can swindle them out of their BSU ticket - I think it's going to be a great game.

That's the big picture national view, now let's look at where these teams are picked to finish within their conference.  I've included the picks from preseason polls (except for the Atlantic Sun which I couldn't find anywhere) as well as the two computers.  I've also listed Ken Pomeroy's ranking for the conference as a whole so you can get an idea of the strength of  league competition.

Rankings are listed as overall except where there are divisions.

Conference Rating
Opponent Conference Location Poll KenPom TeamRankings KP Conf Rank
UNC Asheville Big South Home 4 (Div) 3 (Div) 2 (Div) 28
Northern Kentucky Atlantic Sun Home
9 9 22
Michigan St. Big Ten Neutral 1 1 1 1
Robert Morris Northeast Home 2 1 2 24
UT Arlington Sun Belt Home 7 6 5 17
Cleveland St. Horizon Home 3 6 5 12
Eastern Michigan MAC Home 3 (Div) 8 8 18
Providence Big East Neutral 6 5 5 2
Baylor Big 12 Neutral 3 3 3 6
Boise St. MWC Home 2 2 2 9
North Carolina ACC Away 3 3 3 3
Belmont Ohio Valley Home 2 (Div) 1 (Div) 1 (Div) 23
Louisville AAC Home 1 1 1 4

  • Once again there is basic agreement for everyone, except for Cleveland State.  I'm not sure what the cause for the difference is, though CSU did receive votes in the Mid Major Top 25 poll and they have two 2nd-team preseason all-conference players so maybe the voters see something not taken into account by the computers.
  • Eastern Michigan's ratings are not in disagreement - once again all the strength in the MAC lies in the East Division so being 3rd in the West is only good for 8th overall.
  • 7 of the 13 teams are picked to finish 3rd or better in their conference.  4 of the teams are picked to be the best by at least one poll/computer.
  • There's a pretty good mix of conferences in the schedule.  Only four are rated in the 20s and UK faces a top team in two of them.  There are six schools from Top 10 conferences..

Overall this is a really nice schedule.  It can be hard to know how good teams are going to be when putting the schedule together and I have to think that Calipari is happy with how this one turned out.  There aren't too many bad teams and there is good balance in terms of conference affiliation among the best teams on the schedule.  This is going to be an asset as the Cats shoot for the overall #1 seed in March.