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UK basketball faces challenging non-conference schedule; Big Blue Madness set for Oct. 11


With the exception of a still-to-be-announced Big 12/SEC Challenge game, the University of Kentucky men’s basketball 2019-20 non-conference schedule was completed Tuesday with five additional games.

Already packed with the annual slate of traditional powers and postseason contenders, UK added a multi-team event, the BBN Showcase, and finalized a two-year deal with Georgia Tech from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Wildcats will host four games in the BBN Showcase, starting with Utah Valley on Nov. 18. Mount St. Mary’s will come to town Nov. 22, Lamar on Nov. 24 and UAB on Nov. 29. All four games are at Rupp Arena.

Georgia Tech, a former longtime Southeastern Conference member, will visit Rupp Arena on Dec. 14. UK will return to the trip and play the Yellow Jackets Nov. 27, 2020 at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving.

Kentucky’s game with Georgia Tech this season will mark the first meeting since the Yellow Jackets defeated the Wildcats 86-84 on Dec. 9, 2000, at Philips Arena (now State Farm Arena) in Atlanta. UK has dominated the series with Georgia Tech, however, leading the all-time series 56-15, including 30-4 in Lexington.

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Georgia Tech, of course, is led by Josh Pastner, who served as an assistant under UK head coach John Calipari during the 2008-09 season at Memphis. After Calipari’s departure, Pastner took the reins at Memphis before taking over at Georgia Tech for the 2016-17 season.

The Yellow Jackets return their top three scorers from last season.

UAB will likely catch the eyes of Big Blue Nation. The Blazers are one of the few schools that own a winning record vs. the Wildcats and have twice knocked UK out of the NCAA Tournament, including a 76-75 victory when Kentucky was the No. 1 seed in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

UK owns a combined 5-0 record vs. its other three BBN Showcase opponents, Utah Valley (1-0), Mount St. Mary’s (1-0) and Lamar (3-0).

Already announced for the 2019-20 non-conference slate is a matchup vs. Michigan State on Nov. 5 in the State Farm Champions Classic in New York, a two-game trip in Las Vegas with games against Utah (Dec. 18) and Ohio State (Dec. 21 as a part of the CBS Sports Classic), and the annual rivalry vs. Louisville on Dec. 28 in Rupp Arena. Both Michigan State and Louisville are expected to be preseason top-10 teams.

Additionally, UK will travel to a to-be-determined Big 12 opponent in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 25.

Kentucky’s other previously announced non-conference opponents include Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 8), Evansville (Nov. 12) and Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 7). All three of those games will be in Rupp Arena.

Big Blue Madness is set for Oct. 11, the Blue-White Game will be Oct. 18, and UK will host the defending NAIA national championship team, Georgetown College (Oct. 27), and Kentucky State (Nov. 1), all in Rupp Arena.

With the Big 12/SEC Challenge game still to be announced, six of UK’s 12 non-conference opponents in the upcoming season made a postseason tournament in 2019, four of which made the NCAA Tournament.

Five teams finished the 2018-19 season with an NCAA Evaluation Tool ranking in the top 100 and three ended the season receiving votes in one of the two major polls. All told, Kentucky’s current 2019-20 non-conference opponents combined for a record of 222-181 in 2018-19, a .551 winning percentage.

That non-conference schedule will give way to one of the toughest league schedules in the country. Although dates have not been finalized yet, UK will play its permanent home-and-away opponents of Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt twice, plus host and visit both Auburn and Georgia.

Kentucky’s league home schedule will include the five aforementioned teams as well as Alabama, Mississippi State, Missouri and Ole Miss. UK’s road matchups will come against Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M, in addition to Auburn, Georgia and the three permanent home-and-home opponents.

The league is coming off another outstanding season in 2018-19. Seven SEC teams participated in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, one shy of its record set in 2018. Four teams advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season, matching a league record also set in 1986 and 1996. On Jan. 21, six SEC teams were ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, tying for the most in a single AP poll in league history.

UK’s home-and-away slate features five intriguing matchups. Auburn and the Wildcats tangled in the Elite Eight with the Tigers advancing to their first-ever Final Four by a six-point margin in overtime. Georgia, led by Tom Crean, boasts one of the nation’s best recruiting classes. Florida is expected to be among not only the SEC’s best teams but a national contender. Vanderbilt welcomes newly minted head coach Jerry Stackhouse to the fold, while Tennessee is led by last season’s Naismith winner for national coach of the year in Rick Barnes.

Ashton Hagans (7.7 points per game, 160 assists) was named the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2018-19.

The non-conference and league schedule combined reveals that 14 of the 25 opponents UK will face played in the postseason in 2018-19, including 10 in the NCAA Tournament, four in the Sweet 16 and two in the Final Four. Five teams are in ESPN.com’s way-too-early top-25 rankings.

Kentucky will meet that schedule head on with what looks to be a solid blend of talent and experience. The Wildcats welcome back sophomore guards Ashton Hagans (7.7 points per game and 160 total assists in 2018-19) and Immanuel Quickley (30 3-pointers), junior forward Nick Richards (74 career games), and sophomore EJ Montgomery (3.8 points, 4.1 rebounds in 2018-19).

To replace the losses of first-round NBA Draft picks PJ Washington, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson, plus Reid Travis, who signed a professional contract with Medi Bayreuth in the German Basketball Bundesliga on Monday, Calipari has brought in another top-ranked recruiting class that features six freshmen and graduate transfer Nate Sestina.

Dates for the SEC schedule are expected to be unveiled soon. A complete list of tip times and TV networks will also be announced at a later time.

From University of Kentucky


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