The Kentucky Wildcats released the full men’s basketball schedule for the 2018-2019 season on Friday, and fans are already thinking ahead to SEC games and tournament play. But there is a lot of basketball to be played before we get to that point.
With both the non-conference and SEC schedules being so competitive, there is a lot to analyze about the Wildcats’ opponents and the schedule itself.
Now that the schedule is complete, here are five immediate thoughts on Kentucky’s potential route to a ninth title.
1. Non-Conference Strength
Yes, Kentucky has participated in the Champions Classic, CBS Sports Classic, and SEC/Big 12 Challenge in recent years. But when you look at this year’s slate, Kentucky has to face three teams that are all-time blue blood programs as well as potential top-5 teams for this season.
After opening the season against Duke on November 6th in Indianapolis, Kentucky will meet North Carolina in Chicago on December 22nd and host Kansas on January 26th. Kansas, Kentucky, and Duke are the three favorites in Las Vegas to win the national championship this spring, with North Carolina coming in at No. 7 on that list.
Add in Louisville, Utah, Seton Hall (in New York), and even a veteran UNC Greensboro team and this is a non-conference schedule not to be taken lightly.
2. SEC Road Games are Brutal
Although the young Wildcats are going to have to grow up fast before SEC play begins, they will experience their first hostile environments in conference play.
Opening SEC play at Alabama will be no picnic, as Avery Johnson has his program trending in the right direction and has several stars on the roster. Playing at Auburn will be tough, as they come in with high expectations and Kentucky has lost the last two meetings there.
John Calipari has also struggled to win at Thompson-Boling Arena and the Wildcats will play there as conference play winds down. Match-ups at Florida and Mississippi State will be challenging as well. You know, Kentucky is every team’s Super Bowl.
3. A Nice Routine
Early on, the Wildcats will play a variety of weekday games and even mix in a Sunday. But once the schedule really picks up in December, fans will be able to relax and put the calendars away without worrying about when Kentucky plays.
Beginning on December 1st, every game Kentucky plays during the regular season will take place on either a Tuesday or a Saturday. Games are all on Saturdays in December, and then they play every Saturday and Tuesday beginning on January 5th.
That gives you five days every week to live your life and prepare for game day. It’s like an early Christmas gift. Enjoy.
I know how great this team looked in the Bahamas. And I know Mega Bemax beating Michigan on Thursday makes it look even better. But make no mistake, this team ain’t going 40-0.
The 2014-2015 squad that nearly pulled off that feat had a much easier route to a perfect season than this one. And if you remember correctly, they had several close calls during conference play.
While fans should cheer for a win every game, they should also understand that this is as tough of a schedule as we have seen for Kentucky in quite some time. The Wildcats will not win every game this season, but they will be competitive in every game and use every loss as motivation to chase Kentucky’s ninth championship.
5. It’s So Close!
Maybe it was the chill in the air in central Kentucky this week, or perhaps it is just that we are so close to September. But looking at Kentucky’s schedule hammered home the idea that Big Blue Madness is just over a month away.
In less than 50 days, Big Blue Nation will get to watch this new group of Wildcats step foot in Rupp Arena for the first time.
Is that the most analytical reaction to the full schedule? Probably not.
Is it the most exciting? Absolutely.