Schedule to test UK early, often

Coach Billy Gillispie and the Kentucky men's basketball team won't get much time to work out the kinks this season.

The 2008-09 schedule was released Saturday and the Cats will have just one regular-season game to prepare for a road date with pre-season national title favorite North Carolina on Nov. 18.

The Tar Heels return all five starters, which includes Tyler Hansbrough, from a team that went 36-3 and advanced to the Final Four last season.

And the road to Southeastern Conference play won't get much easier after that for Patrick Patterson and the rest of the Cats.

In addition to the traditional games with Indiana (Dec. 13) and Louisville (Jan. 4), the non-conference schedule includes a matchup with a Miami team that's expected to compete with North Carolina for the Atlantic Coast Conference title and a possible game against Bob Huggins and West Virginia.

Tom Crean's first game against UK as the head coach of Indiana will take place in Rupp Arena. The Cats will travel to Freedom Hall to face Louisville in their final game before SEC play begins.

Gillispie's team will host Miami on Dec. 6, just one day before former UK guard and ”Unforgettable“ Sean Woods returns to Rupp as a first-year head coach of Mississippi Valley State.

The Cats could meet West Virginia in the Las Vegas Invitational in late November. UK's first two games in that showcase will be at home against Delaware State and Longwood. There's no need to worry about another Gardner-Webb moment, though, because the Cats will go on to play Kansas State in Vegas regardless of the outcome of the two games in Rupp.

The Kansas State game won't tip off until midnight and will be televised on ESPNU. Kentucky will face either West Virginia or Iowa the following night.

The SEC schedule begins Jan. 10 with UK's first meeting with Vanderbilt since the Commodores embarrassed the Cats on national television with a 93-52 rout last February.

Three days later, UK goes to Knoxville to see Hopkinsville native Scotty Hopson for the first time in a Tennessee uniform. Hopson will wear the road orange in Rupp Arena on Feb. 21.

Two other Kentucky natives will host the Cats for the first time as head coaches in the SEC.

Valentine's Day will mark the first time John Pelphrey rolls out the red carpet in Fayetteville for a game between his Arkansas Razorbacks and UK. Glasgow native and Tates Creek High School graduate Darrin Horn will host UK on Feb. 25 as the first-year head coach of South Carolina. The former Western Kentucky player and coach will bring his team to Lexington on Jan. 31.

Georgia will be this season's opponent on Senior Night, which will take place on March 4 with a ceremony including lone senior Jared Carter.

UK will cap the SEC regular season on March 7 with a trip to Florida. The Cats will look for their first win in Gainesville since 2004.

The SEC Tournament will be played March 12-15 in Tampa, Fla.

Gillispie will get plenty of national exposure in his second year in charge of the Cats.

CBS Sports has selected six UK games for national broadcast and ESPN will televise at least six games in addition to the Kansas State game on ESPNU.

Eight of the Cats' 16 conference games will be on national television with the other eight being produced by Raycom Sports.