UK Facing a December Gauntlet of Potential NCAA Tourney Teams [VIDEO]
While Kentucky's 81-63 victory over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday afternoon can be classified as a blow-out, it took the 'Cats and entire half to figure the Eagles out. They only led by three at the break.
With all due respect to EMU, the next six opponents--UK's entire December slate--will be anywhere from a little to much tougher to "figure out."
Sunday, the 'Cats head to Brooklyn to face 7-1 Providence at the Barclays Center. The game will air Sunday night at 7:30 on WBKR. The Friars have been slowly building toward becoming an NCAA Tournament team. This year could be that year. They lost to Maryland by four in the finals of the Paradise Jam. They own wins over ACC sleeper Boston College and LaSalle, a Sweet 16 team a season ago that returns most of that roster. Plus, Providence blasted Vermont by 21 points--a Vermont team that only lost by one point at Duke.
On December 6th, the 'Cats head west to take on #18 Baylor at Cowboys Stadium. Last season, the Bears handed UK its first home loss under John Calipari. Their recent comeback win over a very good Dayton team at the Maui Invitational was impressive. They've played--and beaten--Kentucky before, so they won't be intimidated.
December 10th is the day Kentucky plays host to Boise State. The Broncos are a projected NCAA Tournament team. They made it to the Big Dance last year and all five starters from that team are back. That's called experience. And depending on where you look, they're predicted to win the Mountain West Conference. (They jockey for position in various polls with New Mexico.) They're a good team, but they've never been to Rupp Arena before and that could be a factor for BSU. Also, this is the first-ever meeting between these two programs. It's an interesting addition to the schedule.
And so is the team Kentucky will visit on December 14th. Yes, that's called an understatement. North Carolina returns to the UK schedule after a one-year absence to renew a rivalry both programs relish. I can't wait to see what happens. A couple of weeks ago, the Tar Heels looked like that old team constantly haunted by defensive issues when they took a three-point home loss to Belmont. But then they rebounded a few days later and manhandled a loaded Louisville team in a nine-point neutral court win. This will be Kentucky's first true road game with the new crop of freshmen. We'll see if it becomes a baptism of fire.
Speaking of Belmont, the Bruins visit Rupp Arena a week later on the 21st and will try to pull off their second shocking road win of the season. After winning at North Carolina, it's not exactly they'll be overwhelmed playing on the home court of national power.
And, finally, speaking of national powers, the one a majority of Kentucky fans hate most (although Duke gives them a run for their money), will come to Rupp Arena for the game of the season. In fact, Louisville is the game of the season every year, regardless of how either team is playing. The Cardinals came enter the season ranked in the top five, but that loss to Carolina dropped them to #9. Watching that game, it occurred to me that Louisville will have trouble with teams that have a lot of size up front. UK certainly has that, but it's a far less experienced team. That said, the rule book gets tossed out the window when these two rivals get together.
Well, there it is...a borderline murderous December gauntlet that will show us all we'll need to know about these young Kentucky Wildcats. It'll be great for them, whatever happens.