2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Kentucky WildcatsPosted by zhayes9 on August 27th, 2010
Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court. To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.
After dissecting a trio of Big 12 teams in prior weeks, more and more elite programs are releasing their 2010-11 schedules to the masses. Let’s continue with Kentucky, a squad that reloaded following the departure of an astounding five first round draft picks.
Team Outlook: A fan base as rabid and fanatical as Kentucky’s surely awaited this week’s announcement with tremendous anticipation. Big Blue Nation has expectations for their Wildcats that perennially surpass any other program in the nation. Their point guard and this April’s #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, John Wall, will be replaced by Brandon Knight, whose high school accolades and ranking matches those of his predecessors under John Calipari. If deemed eligible by the NCAA, Enes Kanter will fill the post presence left by the ultra-productive DeMarcus Cousins. Similarly to Kanter, Terrence Jones spurned Washington and headed to Kentucky, a 6’9 wing very capable of matching the offensive production provided by Eric Bledsoe a season ago. The key word for Kentucky and Calipari since he took the helm: replenish. And if Knight, Kanter and Jones are history next April, three more top-ten recruits will fill the void. It’s a tall task for Knight and Kanter to match the contributions of Wall and Cousins, two of the top three players in the sport last season. Still, with such talent abounding, a wide open SEC, and the true dribble-drive offense back into high gear, to expect a giant step back from Big Blue and underestimating the coaching prowess of Calipari would be a grave mistake.
Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 7.5. A program with the visibility and significance of Kentucky should challenge themselves at every chance. Forced out of necessity more than choice to load up in November and December at Memphis, Calipari has utilized that same strategy in Lexington. The potential is there to face fellow powerhouses at least in terms of college basketball history: North Carolina, Michigan State, Louisville, Indiana, Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma, although these teams remain at varying degrees of competitiveness. Kentucky will surely attract an enormous contingent to Maui where they could face a top-ten team in the semifinals in Washington and a top-two team in the finals, Michigan State. North Carolina is still working its way back up to elite status following last year’s NIT berth, but the young Wildcats’ trip to the Dean Dome won’t be any sort of cakewalk. The same theory applies to Louisville on New Year’s Eve, the next chapter of one of the fiercest rivalries the sport knows. A matchup with possible NCAA squad Notre Dame should also prove competitive. Kentucky gets everyone’s best shot, and it’s no relief for Calipari that up to seven non-conference contests will be either on true road or neutral floors.
Cupcake City: Two notable cupcakes travel to Lexington when Mississippi Valley State and Coppin State make the trip for what should be 40-point blowouts, but other than that Calipari did a solid job limiting the scrubs. East Tennessee State returns their top three scorers from an NCAA Tournament team that was blown out in the first round by, you guessed it, Kentucky. I’m not saying the Wildcats are vulnerable to lose to the Buccaneers, but they will not be a total walkover. Winthrop rode a Big South Cinderella run to an NCAA bid and is on the slate. Boston University with John Holland and Jake O’Brien is halfway decent, while a Maui tune-up in Portland against the rebuilding Pilots will provide a raucous atmosphere. Last season, Kentucky did struggle a bit early in the campaign against Miami (OH), Stanford and Sam Houston State while Calipari determined roles and rotations for a plethora of new players. If the same holds true a year later, Portland and BU could be pesky opponents.
Toughest Early Season Test: It’s far from a guarantee that Kentucky downs Washington in the Maui semifinals. After all, the Huskies return the majority of their backcourt led by Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy with a frontcourt anchored by Matthew Bryan-Amaning and a talented newcomer in Terrence Ross. Plus, they should have plenty of motivation to knock Kentucky down a few pegs following the Kanter and Jones situations that have been rehashed continuously. If the Wildcats can survive Washington, and I have a sneaking suspicion they will, Michigan State awaits in the final if the Spartans can knock off Connecticut or Wichita State (unless they pull a Virginia against Chaminade). The Spartans return their entire Final Four squad with the exception of Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen. Containing Kalin Lucas is baptism by fire for green Brandon Knight, while wing Darius Miller may have the unenviable task of chasing around three-point bomber Durrell Summers. The Spartans will likely be ranked number two in the nation behind Duke at this point. Win or lose, the learning experience will certainly be valuable for the young Wildcats.
Hardest SEC Stretch: Although it’s reasonable to believe Kentucky will only improve as the season wears on and March draws nearer, there’s a stretch in the heart of SEC play that will provide challenge after challenge for Calipari and UK. Starting with a January 29 home date against Georgia, the schedule from that point to February 15 reads as follows: at Mississippi, at Florida, vs. Tennessee, at Vanderbilt, vs. Mississippi State. That’s three out of four on the road against upper-echelon SEC competition, including the projected SEC winner (by some prognosticators) in Florida with College Gameday in the house. The trip to Nashville is no walk in the park. The Wildcats barely survived that game last season and Vanderbilt has talent returning in John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor, Brad Tinsley and freshman Rod Odom. I’d be surprised if Tennessee or Mississippi State knocked off Kentucky in Rupp, but both could make appearances in the top 25 at some point, especially if Renardo Sidney lives up to the hype in Starkville. It will be imperative for Calipari to not lose his younger players if they slip in two or three of these difficult games.
Easiest SEC Stretch: Luckily for Coach Cal, there is calm before the storm that begins on February 15. Kentucky may very well fall to a talented Georgia squad led by Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie to open SEC competition. After that, Kentucky should be favored in their next five games leading into the rematch with Georgia at Rupp. Two home dates with likely cellar dwellers Auburn and LSU are followed by road games at Alabama and South Carolina. The Gamecocks will be rebuilding after do-everything guard Devan Downey graduated, while Alabama will need a yeoman’s effort from JaMychal Green and freshman point guard Trevor Releford to contend for an NCAA bid. If all goes to plan, a 6-1 start for Kentucky in the SEC is entirely plausible, and should give Calipari’s freshmen plenty of confidence heading into the aforementioned brutal stretch.
Best Individual Matchup: While I’m interested to see how Knight handles Mississippi’s Chris Warren in a backcourt clash of possible first round picks, I’ll be very curious to see how Kentucky’s second heralded frosh, Enes Kanter, matches up with the SEC’s other top big man newcomer (no offense to Tobias Harris) in Renardo Sidney. There’s so much intrigue and mystery when it comes to Sidney, a McDonalds All-American who had to sit out all of last season after he accepted improper benefits and lied to the NCAA. I want to see how he handles the bright lights of Rupp Arena, and, more specifically, who wins the individual battle between Sidney and Kanter. These are two supremely skilled centers with professional futures that can beat you on the low block or in the mid-range. Circle their meeting on February 15.
Most Challenging Road Test: Kentucky actually won at Florida last season and lost at Tennessee, but the Gators are the squad that returns all five starters while the Vols lost key cogs J.P. Prince, Wayne Chism and Bobby Maze. Factoring in the primetime ESPN stage, the Gainesville trip is the most challenging road test. The Gators should be able to beat you in myriad ways this season if the defense and outside shooting can improve. Alex Tyus provides a true post presence, Chandler Parsons has guard skills in a 6’9 frame and Erving Walker can beat you with dribble penetration. A sophomore improvement from Kenny Boynton is also expected. Kentucky will have all they can handle on February 11.
Most Anticipated Home Date: With the annual Louisville-Kentucky wrestling match being played at Pitino’s Palace this season, the program that fuels the second-most hatred for Big Blue has to be Tennessee. Whether it’s Bruce Pearl dancing up and down the sidelines with his orange suit or the many recruiting battles that have been waged in recent seasons, the Border Battle is the bluegrass version of Tobacco Road. These two coaches dislike each other and the fans would say dislike doesn’t even begin to describe the level of disdain. The Vols provided the Wildcats a bit of a scare last season at Rupp. Expect another back-and-forth duel this time around if Tennessee can receive steady performances from Scotty Hopson, Brian Williams and Tobias Harris in such a tough environment.
Upset Watch: Georgia isn’t grand enough of an upset, so I’ll go out on an even bigger limb and say Arkansas has a shot to stun Kentucky on February 23 in Fayetteville. Hang with me for a second. The loss of Courtney Fortson for head coach John Pelphrey could be more addition by subtraction relieving the team of his ball-hoggishness and off the court issues. Marshawn Powell, should he recover fully from a broken foot, is an underrated forward that averaged nearly 15 PPG as a freshman. Iowa transfer Jeff Peterson is eligible and Rotnei Clarke could get ridiculously hot from deep at any point. Adding former Hog Scotty Thurman and Florida guard Brett Nelson may upgrade the coaching staff. I’d say it’s a stretch but not completely out of the question to see the Razorbacks pull off a late season stunner.