Kentucky unveils challenging 2017-18 nonconference schedule

Feature: Team-by-team breakdown

Basketball always seems to be in the air in the Bluegrass, and the release of the nonconference schedule certainly makes it feel like the 2017-18 schedule is right around the corner.

Kentucky unveiled its 2017-18 nonconference schedule Tuesday and it features a dozen games against teams that advanced to the postseason a year ago, including eight that played in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will play nine of their 13 total nonconference games at Rupp Arena.

For an exceptionally young Kentucky team replacing 88.3 percent of its minutes, 92.6 percent of its scoring and 76.6 percent of its rebounding, the 2017-18 nonconference schedule offers an opportunity to prepare the Wildcats for a Southeastern Conference slate that figures to be as difficult as it has ever been in the Calipari era.

Coach Cal hopes UK’s 2017-18 nonconference schedule helps prepare his young team for the SEC and postseason. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

“We are going to have what could be the youngest team in the history of college basketball,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “We had to take that into account when building this year’s schedule. How do we prepare our guys to be at our best at the end of the season – which we’ve done nearly every year – while also putting them in a position to grow and succeed? I think we’ve done that with this schedule.

“When you look at who we will play, you’re talking about experienced teams that were in the postseason a year ago and bring back the core of their teams. This schedule is going to be a challenge for us, but my hope is it sets us up for a run at the end of the season.”

UK will play five teams that had an RPI in the top 50 last year, four that were ranked in the two major polls and three that advanced to at least the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Combined, UK’s nonconference opponents posted a 314-134 (.701) record last season.

The Wildcats’ compete schedule, including SEC games, times and TV designations, will be announced at a later date.

The 2017-18 college basketball season will get underway with Big Blue Madness. The annual celebration of Kentucky basketball will take place Oct. 13 at Rupp Arena. One week later, fans will get to see the men’s basketball team in a much more realistic setting with the annual Blue-White Game on Oct. 20.

Following a pair of exhibition games, which will be announced at a later date, UK will open the regular season on Nov. 10 with a home game against Utah Valley, which is led by former Kentucky forward and national champion Mark Pope. UVU will bring in a veteran-laden squad that returns four of its top five scorers from a season ago.

Coming off a fantastic season in which it won 29 games and became the first team in America East history to win all 16 games in league play, Vermont comes to Rupp Arena two days later on Nov. 12. The Catamounts welcome back each of their top four scorers, including America East Player of the Year Trae Bell-Haynes.

UK will play five teams that had an RPI in the top 50 last year, four that were ranked in the two major polls and three that advanced to at least the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

UK will play its first game away from home on Nov. 14 when it travels to the Windy City to take on Kansas in the annual Champions Classic at the United Center in Chicago. It’s the fourth straight season that UK has faced Kansas and the sixth time in the last seven seasons the two winningest teams in college basketball history have met.

The Wildcats will then return home for five straight games at Rupp Arena, beginning with East Tennessee State on Nov. 17. The Buccaneers are coming off a 27-win campaign in which it advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

Three days later UK will host Troy. The reigning Sun Belt champions are returning three of its top four scorers and four of last year’s five starters.

On Nov. 22, one day prior to Thanksgiving, UK will take on the Fort Wayne Mastodons. A strong 3-point shooting team, Fort Wayne will be led by junior-to-be John Konchar, a two-time All-Summit League First Team selection who hit more than half of his 87 3-point attempts last season.

The UIC Flames come to the Bluegrass on Nov. 26. The most inexperienced team in the country last season, according to college basketball analytics guru Ken Pomeroy, UIC brings back nearly the entire roster from a team that advanced to the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational last season.

UK’s games against ETSU, Troy, Fort Wayne and UIC are all part of the Adolph Rupp Classic.

Harvard, another exceptionally inexperienced team from a year ago that returns much of its production from an 18-win campaign, will come to Rupp Arena on Dec. 2 for the first time in program history. The Crimson will be led by Bryce Aiken, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season and the second freshman to ever be named First Team All-Ivy League. Head coach Tommy Amaker’s squad brings back four of its top five scorers.

UK will play a dozen teams during the nonconference portion of its schedule that played in the postseason last year, including eight that played in the NCAA Tournament. (photo by Petre Thomas, special to UK Athletics)

UK will travel to New York City on Dec. 9 to take on Monmouth in the inaugural Citi Double Cash Classic at Madison Square Garden. The Hawks went 27-7 last season and became the first team in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference history to win 18 league games.

Kentucky hosts Virginia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference on Dec. 16. VT head coach Buzz Williams has led the Hokies to 20-plus wins and 10 league victories in back-to-back seasons. Virginia Tech, which brings in a consensus top-25 recruiting class, returns three players who hit 57-plus 3-pointers last season and each of those three Hokies shot at least 37 percent from beyond the arc.

For the fifth time in the last four seasons, UK will play UCLA. The Wildcats and Bruins will face off at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans in the annual CBS Sports Classic on Dec. 23. UCLA, which figures to be a top-20 team in the preseason polls based on the early predictions from various media outlets, is bringing in a top-five recruiting class to pair with key returners Aaron Holiday (12.3 points and 4.4 assists per game) and Thomas Welsh (10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game).

UK’s final home game of the nonconference schedule will be against in-state rival Louisville on Dec. 29. The Cardinals lost star guard Donovan Mitchell to the NBA Draft, but return a number of key pieces, including wing Deng Adel and point guard Quentin Snider. UofL also brings in a top-10 recruiting class. Kentucky has won eight of these two rivals’ 10 meetings during the Calipari era.

The final out-of-conference game of the 2017-18 season comes in the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 27. Kentucky will travel to Morgantown, West Virginia, this season to play West Virginia in raucous WVU Coliseum. The Mountaineers will be led by last season’s leading scorer Jevon Carter, who was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season and figures to be a preseason All-America candidate this season.

Is it October yet?

Kentucky’s 2017-18 nonconference schedule

Date Opponent Location Arena
Oct. 13 Big Blue Madness Lexington Rupp Arena
Oct. 20 Blue-White Game Lexington Rupp Arena
Nov. 10 Utah Valley Lexington Rupp Arena
Nov. 12 Vermont Lexington Rupp Arena
Nov. 14 Kansas Chicago United Center
Nov. 17 East Tennessee State Lexington Rupp Arena
Nov. 20 Troy Lexington Rupp Arena
Nov. 22 Fort Wayne Lexington Rupp Arena
Nov. 26 UIC Lexington Rupp Arena
Dec. 2 Harvard Lexington Rupp Arena
Dec. 9 Monmouth New York Madison Square Garden
Dec. 16 Virginia Tech Lexington Rupp Arena
Dec. 23 UCLA New Orleans Smoothie King Center
Dec. 29 Louisville Lexington Rupp Arena
Jan. 27 West Virginia Morgantown, W.Va. WVU Coliseum