LEXINGTON – The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team plays one of the premier nonconference schedules in the country on an annual basis, but the Wildcats’ 2016-17 slate appears to have taken a typically difficult schedule of games and cranked it up another notch.
UK’s 13-game nonconference schedule, which was released Monday, features eight teams that made it to a postseason tournament in 2015-16, five teams who finished the year with a top 50 RPI ranking and a number of battles with college basketball’s blueblood programs. Three of KenPom’s top five teams from last season (North Carolina, Kansas and Michigan State) are among the heavyweights Kentucky will face in 2016-17.
The Wildcats’ upcoming slate, which will be released in full at a later time, will take the Wildcats as far east as the Bahamas for the second game of a two-year deal with Arizona State (Nov. 28) and as far west as Las Vegas for a matchup with North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic (Dec. 17).
Kentucky will also travel twice to New York, first to play Michigan State (Nov. 15) in Madison Square Garden, and then against Hofstra at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (Dec. 11).
UK’s always highly anticipated home schedule includes rematches with UCLA (Dec. 3) and Kansas (Jan. 28). This year’s annual rivalry with Louisville will take place at the KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 21.
“What we try to do with our schedule every year is challenge our players with the best teams in the country while also preparing them for that March run, which is what this program has been built on,” head coach John Calipari said. “This is not an easy task, and sometimes we go too far. Hopefully this isn’t one of those years. When you combine the teams we’re playing with the travel we have, this might be the toughest schedule we’ve ever attempted. I can’t wait to get this started.”
After exhibitions against Clarion (Oct. 30) and Asbury (Nov. 6), UK will kick off its regular season Nov. 11 at home vs. Stephen F. Austin, which came within a basket of making the Sweet 16 last season, before a quick turnaround against Canisius on Nov. 13.
The sixth installment of the Champions Classic will pit UK vs. Michigan State on Nov. 15 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Kentucky last played in Madison Square Garden during the 2012 National Championship season in which UK defeated Kansas.
After Michigan State, the Wildcats will return home for three straight home games in five days against Duquesne (Nov. 20), Cleveland State (Nov. 23) and UT Martin (Nov. 25). Both Duquesne (CBI) and UT Martin (CIT) made postseason tournaments a season ago, and UT Martin just missed out on the NCAA Tournament by making it to the Ohio Valley Conference championship game.
The Wildcats will play Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State team for a second season in a row, only this time it will be on the sunny shores of the Bahamas on Nov. 28. The Wildcats played six exhibition games in a preseason international trip to the Bahamas before the historic 2014-15 season.
December will be jam-packed with marquee games. UK will take on UCLA for a third straight season, but the Dec. 3 matchup this year will mark UCLA’s first-ever trip to Rupp Arena. On Dec. 7, Valparaiso, which made it to the 2016 NIT championship game, will travel to Lexington.
UK will then hit the road for two neutral site games and its first true road game. The Wildcats will play Hofstra for the first time in program history at the Barclays Center on Dec. 11. It will mark the Wildcats’ fourth game in the Barclays Center since it opened in 2012.
Arguably two of the most recognizable programs in college basketball will meet Dec. 17 when UK and North Carolina go head to head at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for the CBS Sports Classic. This year’s matchup with Louisville, who the Wildcats are 8-1 against in the Calipari era, has been moved up to Dec. 21 this season.
The two winningest schools in NCAA history, UK and Kansas, will play for a second straight year in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. That game will once again serve as a break in league play and take place Jan. 28.
All told, Kentucky’s 2016-17 nonconference opponents combined for a record of 290-157 in 2015-16, a .649 winning percentage. Four teams finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the all-important RPI.
UK’s 2016-17 Southeastern Conference schedule will feature nine home games and nine away games, and will be announced at a later date. It’s the fifth straight year the SEC will feature an 18-game schedule.
Dates for Big Blue Madness (Oct 14) and the Blue-White Scrimmage (Oct. 21) have already been announced. Complete game times and TV information will be released at a later date.