Kentucky’s challenging 2018-19 men’s basketball schedule will extend beyond the eye-catching pre-conference slate of games. The Southeastern Conference schedule, which was announced Friday, seems top heavy with tests, too.
The customary five home-and-away series inside the SEC schedule will include two games each against the defending co-champions of the league: Tennessee and Auburn.
Tennessee along with Florida and Vanderbilt are permanent home-and-home opponents for UK. Auburn, which like the Vols returns several players from last season’s championship run, is a newcomer on the home-and-home slate.
The other newcomer is Mississippi State, which is seen as an upper-echelon team in the SEC. Joe Boozell of NCAA.com included State among his 64 “fearless predictions” for the upcoming season.
“Ben Howland reaches his first NCAA Tournament at Mississippi State,” Boozell predicted. “The Bulldogs have the talent. Time to go do something with it.”
Another of Boozell’s predictions was that the SEC would challenge the Atlantic Coast Conference as the best league in college basketball this coming season. According to a UK news release, 20 of ESPN’s top 100 recruits signed with SEC teams.
The second of UK’s games against Florida continues a trend suggesting that television sees the two teams as compelling attractions.
Florida will be the opponent for Kentucky’s Senior Day finale on March 9. That will mark the 17th time in the last 20 seasons that a Kentucky-Florida game concluded the regular season and served as an appetizer for the postseason.
Besides Auburn, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Florida and Vandy, other SEC teams playing UK in Rupp Arena will be Texas A&M, South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas.
The release of the full schedule came a day after Kentucky announced its complete non-conference schedule.
That portion of the schedule includes high-profile games against Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Louisville.
Other opponents are Monmouth, UNC Greensboro, Seton Hall, Utah, Southern Illinois, North Dakota, VMI, Winthrop and Tennessee State.
“It’s an interesting schedule with (four) high-profile games and then not much else,” college basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy said of UK’s non-conference schedule.
Pomeroy saw four quadrant 1 games on UK’s non-conference schedule (Duke, UNC, Kansas and Louisville) with Seton Hall and Utah possible quadrant 2 games.
UK Coach John Calipari saw plenty of challenges in the non-conference portion of the schedule. The SEC schedule does not figure to dilute that sentiment.
“This could be the most difficult schedule we’ve played in my time here,” he said in a news release. “The only teams we left off were the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I will say this: For as tough as our schedule is going to be, I believe we have the type of team and kids to play it. Our goal in creating a schedule every season is to test our team while creating opportunities to learn and grow. This one will have more than its fair share of challenges.”
2018-19 UK schedule
(Home games in capital letters. Game times and TV to be announced at a later date)
Oct. 12 — Big Blue Madness
Oct. 21 — Blue-White Game
Oct. 26 — TRANSYLVANIA (1)
Nov. 2 — INDIANA-PENNSYLVANIA (1)
Nov. 6 — Duke (2)
Nov. 9 — SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
Nov. 14 — NORTH DAKOTA (3)
Nov. 18 — VMI (3)
Nov. 21 — WINTHROP (3)
Nov. 23 — TENNESSEE STATE (3)
Nov. 28 — MONMOUTH
Dec. 1 — UNC GREENSBORO
Dec. 8 — Seton Hall (4)
Dec. 15 — UTAH
Dec. 22 — North Carolina (5)
Dec. 29 — At Louisville
Jan. 5 — At Alabama
Jan. 8 — TEXAS A&M
Jan. 12 — VANDERBILT
Jan. 15 — At Georgia
Jan. 19 — At Auburn
Jan. 22 — MISSISSIPPI STATE
Jan. 26 — KANSAS (6)
Jan. 29 — At Vanderbilt
Feb. 2 — At Florida
Feb. 5 — SOUTH CAROLINA
Feb. 9 — At Mississippi State
Feb. 12 — LSU
Feb. 16 — TENNESSEE
Feb. 19 — At Missouri
Feb. 23 — AUBURN
Feb. 26 — ARKANSAS
March 2 — At Tennessee
March 5 — At Mississippi
March 9 — FLORIDA
March 13-17 — SEC Tournament (7)
1-Exhibition; 2-State Farm Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis; 3-Ohio Valley Hardwood Showcase; 4-Citi Hoops Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York; 5-CBS Sports Classic at United Center in Chicago; 6-SEC/Big 12 Challenge; 7-At Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.