RTC 09-10 Class Schedule: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on August 22nd, 2009

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Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.

Just a mere five months ago, the once proud and feared Kentucky basketball program was mired in a state of chaos. The Billy Gillispie era at the university turned out about as well as the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination. Mystifying losses at storied Rupp Arena to such powers as Gardner-Webb and VMI, puzzling interviews with ESPN’s Jeannine Edwards making the blog rounds and exposing Gillispie as a clown, point guards refusing to enter games, rumors of bar scenes of an inebriated Gillispie making a mockery of his reputation and, worse of all, the Wildcats missing the NCAA Tournament in 2009 only to falter in the NIT. After Gillispie was fired, both parties sued each other and now Gillispie is releasing a book that nobody will read. It’s been a whacky offseason in Big Blue Country, and even though their new savior has some issues of his own, the Kentucky basketball program has experienced an unfathomable turnaround over the summer from the laughing stock of college basketball to a legitimate contender to win a national title.

The hiring of John Calipari and the return of forward Patrick Patterson has rejuvenated Kentucky to the point of being widely considered the favorites in an improving SEC this season. The addition of two top-five recruits- point guard John Wall and power forward DeMarcus Cousins- along with Gillispie’s recruits staying on board and a decent core returning from last season’s squad means expectations are once again sky-high in Lexington. Nobody is thinking about Billy Gillispie but rather the school’s first Final Four berth since the Jeff Sheppard era of 1998.

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Here’s the official schedule for a Kentucky team that may be the most exciting to watch this season in all of college basketball:

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 7. The non-conference schedule in John Calipari’s first season features some big names and decent tests, but no overwhelmingly challenging road games are included on the slate. The only true road game is a trip to Bloomington in early December to take on a rebuilding Indiana squad that Kentucky should run out of the building. Emotions will be high for both the North Carolina and Louisville visits during the non-conference season. North Carolina has embarrassed Kentucky handily in two previous meetings and the Wildcats will be eager to exact revenge on their rival Cardinals following last season’s Edgar Sosa miracle (not to mention the coaches aren’t exactly best friends). The schedule also includes a trip to Cancun to take on Cinderella Cleveland State and the Stanford/Virginia winner, none of those teams posing close to a threat. One team that could surprise Kentucky is their opponent in the SEC/Big East Invitational in New York: the Connecticut Huskies. UConn did lose a boatload of scoring and rebounding, but Jerome Dyson, Kemba Walker and Stanley Robinson could be enough to hang with Kentucky’s immense talent. At least for a while.

Cupcake City: While Gillispie was prone to the shocking early-season upset, we suspect Calipari will have his team 100% prepared offensively and defensively every single night throughout the campaign. Kentucky has eight games at home against mid-major or low-major competition this season and one visit to Louisville to take on UNC-Asheville. They should sprint through this slate and remain a decent bet to run the table in non-conference play.

Toughest Early Season Test: While Connecticut is on a neutral floor and North Carolina will visit Rupp, I’ll go with the Tar Heels. Remember: this Kentucky team is dealing with plenty of new parts in various roles, and since the game takes place on December 5, there may still be some confusion and sorting out to do for coach Calipari in teaching his dribble-drive motion offense. The Heels will be dealing with the same problem, but Roy Williams is a familiar face and key players like Ed Davis, Larry Drew and Deon Thompson have experience, although limited. Kentucky seems like a tremendous candidate to peak in February and March rather than December, and this young Carolina team could sneak up on the Wildcats.

Easiest Conference Stretch: A seven-game stretch from mid-January to mid-February could be where Kentucky takes off in SEC play. There are two fairly challenging road contests in that stretch with a trip to South Carolina to deal with Devan Downey and Dominique Archie and a visit to LSU with Tasmin Mitchell and Bo Spencer still involved. Four SEC schools make trips to Rupp during the stretch: Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Alabama. While Vanderbilt and Ole Miss are being discussed as possible NCAA Tournament teams, Kentucky should be heavily favored in all four home games along with the three roadies (a trip to Auburn sprinkled in).

Hardest Conference Stretch: After that visit from Alabama, the schedule gets plenty dicey for Calipari as steep challenges begin to appear in mid-February. While a visit from South Carolina may provide a slight reprieve, the Wildcats take on Tennessee in a home-and-home and also visit SEC challengers Mississippi State and Vanderbilt during this stretch extending till the end of the month. The two Tennessee games will be ultra-hyped with one being a primetime ESPN College Gameday visit. The Vols are the only team that can be mentioned in the same breath as Kentucky in terms of talent in this conference, and the Wildcats trip to Knoxville will be the single most challenging game on the entire schedule. Mississippi State could contend for a top-five seed with Jarvis Varnado, Barry Stewart and possibly Renardo Sidney on the roster, while Vanderbilt boasts all-SEC center A.J. Ogilvy and prized recruit John Jenkins.

SPORT COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Most Difficult Road Test: It has to be the visit to Tennessee in late February. Tyler Smith could pose matchup problems for Patterson and Cousins, J.P. Prince is a slashing scorer and Wayne Chism can contribute inside. Behind an orange-clad crowd screaming Rocky Top and the suffocating Pearl press, the Volunteers have a shot. The one huge advantage for Kentucky comes at the point guard position with Wall running the show against Bobby Maze.

Most Anticipated Home Date: While their coach has some scars of his own, none of them involve sex in the back of a restaurant and a rumored $3,000 abortion. When Rick Pitino makes his return to Lexington on January 2, it won’t be a very happy New Year for the Louisville headman. The hardcore Kentucky fans will be out in full force with elaborate signs and chants mocking the disgraced Pitino. Best of all, Kentucky is head and shoulders above Louisville in terms of talent level this season. Like this rivalry needed any more spice.

Upset Watch: For the reasons mentioned above, I’d keep an eye on the Mississippi State game on February 16. The matchup in Starkville could get very interesting if Sidney and John Riek are eligible, Varnado stays out of foul trouble, Stewart and Dee Bost run a steady offense and Ravern Johnson is hitting threes with some consistency. If the stars align, Rick Stansbury has a very dangerous squad lined up and seems to possess the talent to play with Kentucky, at least on one given night.

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Best Individual Matchup: While Ogilvy battling in the post with Patterson, Cousins and Daniel Orton should be fun, I’m loving with potential diaper dandy battle at the point guard position between Kentucky’s John Wall and Florida’s Kenny Boynton. With Nick Calathes departed, Boynton will surely be the centerpiece of Billy Donovan’s offense this season. Boynton is a prolific scorer and elite talent while Wall is widely considered to be the favorite to go first overall in the 2010 NBA Draft and could be the next of John Calipari’s tremendous point guards after Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans. Wall and Boynton trading clutch baskets could be a show to remember.

Rush the Court Potential: Kentucky fans have long considered their program the elite of the elite in college basketball. This season, really for the first time since winning the SEC in 2004-05, Kentucky fans can back up the talk with a team that has the talent to emerge as a #1 seed and reach Indianapolis in April. The freshman class is the strongest since Lawson/Ellington for Carolina, Calipari is one of the best in the business and Rupp Arena provides a true home-court advantage. The schedule isn’t very daunting, either. Kentucky fans won’t be rushing the court this season, but any opponent that knocks off the Wildcats surely will jump at the opportunity. Kentucky is back, folks, and they should be feared.

zhayes9 (301 Posts)


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16 Responses to “RTC 09-10 Class Schedule: Kentucky Wildcats”

  1. Brian says:

    How long until UK makes the final four and the wins are revoked?

  2. UK News: Rush The Court » Blog Archive » RTC 09-10 Class Schedule: Kentucky … http://bit.ly/uqGvx

  3. chrimsun says:

    Hmm…. Florida on the road concerns me more than Tennessee. UTs talent is simlilar to last year. We handled them at home no problem. On the road, we had a miracle scoring game by meeks, but we should not have a problem getting 54 points from our new players, and of course Patterson will contribute more points as well. I think we match up much better with UT this year than last. Florida at Florida could be a difficult one. It is a smothering, tough atmosphere and the Gators match up to UK better than Tennessee.

  4. Clam says:

    Brian, did you really cook up that little gem and think that it was clever, original, and hurtful to Big Blue? UK fans have been hearing that since before Cal was hired (due to Camby at UMass) and our skin is pretty think, particularly when it comes to unoriginal, uninspired moron-level put-downs. Big Blue is going to win big with Cal, and while your line of thinking will undoubtedly help you lick your wounds after a thrashing, it won’t phase UK fans. Believe what you want and prepare to get dominated.

  5. Brian says:

    I have no doubt Kentucky will win big. Might even with a national championship. But I also have no doubt that 5-10 years from now those wins will be taken away. He’s done it at 2 schools already, why not make it 3? I like Calipari as a coach but it’s hard to ignore his past.

    From your post I get the sense that you think I’m a Kentucky hater or a fan of a team like Louisville or one of your other rivals. I’m anything but. I don’t follow Kentucky basketball aside from the national stuff, I’m not even from the area. I follow a team in another conference who hasn’t played Kentucky in years.

  6. Martin says:

    Brian, I am a Kentucky fan, and I understand that your comment was not a knock against UK. However, there is a reason that Coach Cal hasnt been named in either of the incidents. Is it really his fault that Camby accepted gifts? Or that Rose cheated on his SAT before he had ever set foot on campus? Is it Coach Cals fault for recruiting these young men? They were going to go somewhere, and would have probably made the same bad decision. In Rose’s case, he wouldve lost wins to whatever school he was going to. The NCAA has had plenty of players violate rules resulting in lforfeiting of wins, and there usually the good ones (at least those seem to be the ones getting caught). Coach Cal recruits good players so it just happens he had two of them. Maybe he will recruit another poor decision making star recruit. Maybe wins will be forfeited. I certainly hope not. Frankly I dont believe it will happen, simply because I think Coach Cal and his crew are going to be extra careful making sure that their players arent doing anything wrong and another situation doesnt happen again. Should he have been doing that in the first place? Yes. Does that mean he is the one that made the violation or is at fault? No.

  7. Boyd says:

    Brian,

    Any program risks having seasons vacated due to players’ indiscretions before they reach the collegiate level. The fact that you are endorsing “guilt by association” for two isolated instances just shows that you don’t really know much, or care to know much, about the details in the various cases and would much rather simply place blame on the coach.

    However, if you want to slander someone’s name make sure you know the facts.

    The fact is, the NCAA screwed the pooch on this issue…they admitted that they do not believe that the school or Calipari cheated. The only reason the wins were vacated was due to the ETS invalidating a test score due to lack of response from the student in question, based upon the “strict liability” doctrine. Memphis also conducted their own investigation, and could find no evidence of wrongdoing.

    It looks more and more like the NCAA and Memphis were innocent and duped by a kid that they, and other schools, were still recruiting. And the NCAA, being accountable to no one, punished Memphis simply because they had no one else to punish.

    If this scenario were to happen to UK in the future, my hope is that the NCAA would simultaneously conclude on the Duke ineligibility case (Maggette’s endangered amateur status) and the Kansas ineligibility case (Arthur had high school grades changed). What I see right now is an NCAA organization that applies punitive measures inconsistently with no accountability for their actions.

    Calipari’s past is clean…he has never been charged with any wrongdoing. Not sure if you realize that.

  8. zhayes9 says:

    chrimsun- Agree to disagree on UF. Boynton has a chance to be a stud, but overall I see a team of role players. Tennessee handled them in Gainesville last season and Tennessee returns most of their talent. To me, it comes down to UT or Miss St for the most difficult road game. The Vols have tons of talent- Smith, Chism, Tatum, Prince, Maze- and, if they make any sort of commitment to defense, they can knock off Kentucky.

    As for the Calipari discussion, both sides have a point. Bottom line: Calipari has been the head coach for 2 teams with vacated Final Fours. That’s embarrassing. It may not be directly his fault, but the head coach has to be the fall guy. He didn’t encourage Camby to accept gifts or Rose to cheat on his SAT, but as the head coach it happened on his watch. I know Brian, he’s a fair guy and probably was just making a light-hearted joke. He doesn’t hate Kentucky. With all of the high-profile names likely to shuffle into Kentucky during the Calipari era, it wouldn’t shock me if something like this happened again, even if Cal isn’t directly responsible.

  9. Big Dave says:

    All of this hollering about Cal is nothing but making excuses BEFORE you even play. There will be No such case in Lexington. Every recruit will be inspected under a microscope. Not to mention that the Memphis this was nothing but a shame that Cal nor the school knew nothing about. Hell, the NCAA Clearing House cleared the kid to play. So Brian, you might want to be looking for another excuse, this one will get old after a while.

  10. Rob says:

    This unfair punishment of Memphis really irks me. How on earth can you monitor whether someone has cheated on an SAT if the SAT people can’t monitor it? However they should be punished for the plane ticket thing…actually somebody should be fired for that…somebody has the job where they check reimbursement for plane tickets. That is no accident. And yet Calipari also gets blamed for this nonsense. And Camby…dang. You know when you recruit the best of the best, they are often looking for that paycheck and will do ANYTHING to get it. Now Calipari is gonna have to monitor his players more than any other coach in basketball, for crap that he was never responsible for.

  11. billT says:

    Brian, you do realize that Calipari reported Camby to the NCAA don’t you.

  12. zhayes9 says:

    “There will be No such case in Lexington. Every recruit will be inspected under a microscope.”

    How do you know this?

  13. tallguy says:

    “This unfair punishment of Memphis really irks me. How on earth can you monitor whether someone has cheated on an SAT if the SAT people can’t monitor it?”

    Well, to start, when your star player, after failing three times to get a qualifying score, makes a trip to Detroit to watch a Pistons game and take the SAT the next day, it should set off warning bells. That Cal’s good friend World Wide Wes is based in Detroit only adds to the shadiness.

    “The only reason the wins were vacated was due to the ETS invalidating a test score due to lack of response from the student in question”

    Do not try and pull the “he didn’t get the mail” excuse, his lawyer was also sent a letter asking for clarification and it was also ignored. Rose knew the ETS wanted to hear his explanation, and his silence confirmed his guilt.

    Basically…Cal knew that something was up, but either ignored it to get a player, or actively participated in the fraud. Either way, he made sure to keep his hands clean, and lined up another gig before the news broke. He’s dirty, and UK will rue the day they hired him.

  14. Brian says:

    I don’t believe Calipari didn’t know about Rose. I believe he knew about it and may have encouraged it. With regards to investigations, anything can be covered up. The NCAA likes to go after the little guys and hammer them (see SE Missouri recently). The NCAA wouldn’t touch Kentucky, Memphis, or any other school like that with significant penalties because they bring in too much money and that would stop if anything ever happened. That’s just the way it is. The NCAA is the true culprit here. They act like they care about the rules but either fail to enforce them or look the other way when big time people and programs are involved.

    Calipari’s association with William Wesley (Worldwide Wes) is what really needs to be investigated. Coach Cal is a great coach (one of the top 5 in the country) on the floor but he plays the “game” just like most big time coaches off the court (Calhoun, Boeheim, Pitino, etc). That’s the true dark side of college basketball, one which we all turn a blind eye to because we like the sport and don’t want to believe it. Similar to steroids in baseball, except coaches cheat to get recruits. It will all blow up one day and Calipari won’t be the only coach to be exposed. We don’t want to believe it but it’s the cold hard reality of big time college athletics. It goes on everywhere, in basketball and football.

  15. Brian says:

    Didn’t read tallguy’s comment before I posted but he pretty much sums it up. I agree with him.

  16. keb says:

    tallguy and brian,
    both of your assertions are entirely speculative and not based on facts.

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