It's the night every single Kentucky Wildcats fan has waited for since last season ended.
Tonight, the 2017 Kentucky Basketball team will make their regular-season debut against the Utah Valley Wolverines. The biggest thing to know about UVU is thy’re coached by one of the Bluegrass’ own in Mark Pope.
Pope, who played for Kentucky from 1994-9, helped the Wildcats win the 1996 national championship. To this day, that team is regarded as one of, if not the best college basketball has ever seen, and Pope was, quite literally, right in the center of it.
Also, this is still one of the greatest things ever:
interestingly enough, UVU plays Kentucky tonight, then they play No. 1 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday. That may serve as a good litmus test as to where Kentucky is in comparison to the No. 1 team in the land, as well as the preseason favorite to win it all this season.
The Wildcats come into the season ranked 5th in the country, just behind Kansas (4), Arizona (3), Michigan State (2) and Duke (1).
Last season ended with Malik Monk hitting what everyone in the country thought would be one of the biggest shots of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Monk hit a game-tying 3-point shot with just 10 seconds left in Kentucky's Elite 8 matchup with North Carolina. Then, out of a timeout, the Tar Heels brought the ball up the court and and Luke Maye hit the devastating game-winner for UNC to shock Kentucky fans across the nation.
The Cats are a completely new team eight months later, however, after losing Monk, De'Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo to the draft. They lost Isaiah Briscoe and Isaac Humphries as well, both who declared for the draft which kept them from returning to Kentucky. Also departing the team were seniors Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder.
Kentucky brought in freshman Jarred Vanderbilt, Jemarl Baker Kevin Knox, Nick Richards, P.J. Washington, Quade Green and Shai Alexander. They also retained key pieces such as sophomores Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones, along with redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo.
The Cats are long, quick and athletic, as we saw in their three exhibition games. Though they'll struggle to shoot from outside, at least until a few players show consistency to make outside shots, their defense, fast break offense and size should allow them to dominate almost any matchup they face this season.
There's no question Kentucky is loaded with talent yet again and Calipari has proven he can turn freshman into grown men by March. How long it will take is the real question, as Vanderbilt is stiller recovering from a foot injury and Baker is expected to be out for three months.
Playing in Rupp Arena is like no-other in college basketball and as this will likely be the most crowded it's been, these younger players may be a little shaky to start.
However, they should pull away before halftime and be able to coast from there until the clock hits zero. This Kentucky team is going to provide much excitement for Big Blue Nation this season, so don't miss any chances of seeing them in action.
Utah Valley Wolverines at Kentucky Wildcats
Game Tim: Tip-off is set for 7 P.M. EDT
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
TV Channel: The game will be aired on SEC Network, with that channel being on the following select networks: AT&T U-Verse - 607, DirecTV - 611 & Dish Network - 408.
Odds: Kentucky opened as a 20-point favorite. KenPom projected the Cats to be favored by 25 points.
Prediction: Friday night will be the group's first test this season and though they're given an 89.6% chance to win (via ESPN's Power Index) it shouldn't shock anyone if it took them 8-10 minutes to really get going. TeamRankings actually projects a mere 72-66 win for the home team. However, KenPom projects a 92-67 win for the Cats.