When the UK Hoops squad ended last season coming up just shy again of their Final Four goal, I honestly expected Matthew Mitchell to be a man on a mission this season. The mission would have been laying waste to every opponent on the schedule, and to schedule the best he could. After seeing the results, I believe he may have gotten part of what was needed.
Kentucky starts out the season in particularly bland fashion, facing Eckerd College, Marist, Wagner and Georgia Southern, Central Michigan, and Lipscomb all before Turkey Day. Only Middle Tennessee State on November 24th stands as a formidable opponent for the Hoops squad in the early going.
After Thanksgiving, things seem to pick up a bit. After a game with Bradley, Mitchell's charges face Louisville at home, and Baylor down in Texas back to back in the toughest two game set all season. After a trip to Chicago to face DePaul, and then a return to Memorial to face ETSU, the ladies face Duke in Rupp Arena, which may be the biggest crowd that Kentucky plays in front of all season before closing out 2013 with Grambling St. in Memorial.
SEC play opens up with a trip to Tuscaloosa, a home game against the Florida Gators, and then another road trip to Columbia, S.C. to face the Lady Gamecocks. Missouri, Auburn, and the visiting Crimson Tide provide the next three game set, then Arkansas and Georgia finish the month of January.
February should bring the toughest overall month on the schedule for the ladies as they begin by facing LSU, then Florida, Ole Miss, and Tennessee (in Knoxville), followed by South Carolina at home, then Texas A&M and and Mississippi State on the road, before finishing the season back in Memorial against Vanderbilt on March 2.
The SEC Tourney kicks off on March 5th.
There are going to be some rough spots on this schedule, to be sure. Former NCAA Champions Baylor and Louisville back to back is a nightmare, as well as playing Duke, LSU, Florida, Texas A&M, and South Carolina twice. However, the women should be used to the rigors of the SEC schedule by now, so if they could get through that Louisville/Baylor combo unscathed, their chances of finishing the regular season with less than 5 losses are pretty good.
The "trap" games are going to be MTSU (whom UK lost to a couple years back), Grambling St. close to New Year's, as well as Ole Miss (in between those Florida and Tennessee games. Also trappish is Mississippi State between Texas A&M and Vandy to finish the season. I didn't see a lot of let down last year, and I don't expect there to be this season either. Mitchell and these girls know that once they step on the gas in October, you do not let off until April 15. Will this schedule bring the results that we need? The jury will be out on that one until the post-season starts.
Part of the problem here is the same bug that is biting the men's basketball world. Conference expansion means that the home and home rivalries will become a thing of the past, as only South Carolina and Florida represent the old days this year. Considering South Carolina's penchant for overly physical play, and Florida's history of trying to outmuscle the teams they cannot out shoot, those 4 games could also represent a turning point in the season.
As per usual, the SEC will be a tough world to earn a living in for Matthew Mitchell. Considering how those three months are going to play out, the lighter than expected non-conference schedule can be expected. I was just really hoping that we would be able to see games like the UCONN and Notre Dame contests early on for this squad. They are going to be experienced, have excellent shooting skills, and should be the most athletic team Mitchell has coached to date. With freshman Linnae Harper pushing everyone for playing time, coming off her amazing off-season with Team USA, we should be in for some barnburner games with the likes of Baylor, Louisville, Duke, and Tennessee. Any way you slice it, the Hoops squad is going to have a long season. Whether or not it is a productive one won't be known until we see if we are still playing in April.