LEXINGTON, Ky. – Seventh-year head coach John Calipari (pictured) demands the gold standard in every aspect of the Kentucky men’s basketball program. The Wildcats’ 2015-16 schedule will once again meet that demand as Calipari announced a 13-game non-conference schedule on Thursday, May 21 that features 10 games against teams which advanced to the postseason a season ago.
That list includes national champion Duke in the third game of the season at the Champions Classic in the United Center in Chicago on Nov. 17. In all, the Wildcats will take on six NCAA Tournament squads, two NIT participants and two teams that advanced to at least the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The average final RPI of the teams comes in at 105, with five teams in the all-important top 50 of the RPI.
“Putting a schedule together, especially one like this, is fun,” Calipari said. “Having to play those games is a different story. To understate it, this will obviously be a challenging schedule for a young team like ours, which lost more than 85 percent of its scoring and nearly 80 percent of its rebounding. We’re excited for the challenge.”
In addition to Duke, the Wildcats will also take on powerhouses such as UCLA, Ohio State, Kansas and the annual rivalry game with Louisville. Along the way, UK will make marquee stops in the aforementioned United Center, Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, and Miami in the Heat’s American Airlines Arena. Furthermore, the schedule features road trips to storied buildings such as Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse and the first-ever meeting against the Bruins in Pauley Pavilion.
The schedule includes eight home games highlighted by dates with Louisville and Arizona State. The Sun Devils and newly hired head coach Bobby Hurley, who directed his former team Buffalo to one of the more exciting games against the Cats in 2014, will come to town on Dec. 12. The matchup with the Sun Devils begins a three-week stretch against power five conference opponents, followed by Ohio State in Brooklyn on Dec. 19 and the annual matchup with Louisville on Dec. 26 in Rupp Arena in a series in which the Cats have taken six of the last seven meetings.
The season kicks off with home games on back-to-back days for the first time since Dec. 6-7, 2008. UK will open the year against America East champion Albany on Nov. 13 before hosting New Jersey Institue of Technology (NJIT) the following day. The Highlanders are a CollegeInsider.com semifinalist and a team that upset Michigan in Ann Arbor a season ago.
The Wildcats will venture to Chicago for the Duke contest before returning home to host Wright State (Nov. 20) and Boston (Nov. 24) for the second consecutive season. A matchup with Illinois State concludes the month of November, while UK will have three home games in the month of December beginning with the second consecutive meeting against EKU on Dec. 9.
UK’s 2015 Southeastern Conference schedule will feature nine home games and nine away games, which will be announced at a later date. It’s the fourth straight year the SEC will feature an 18-game schedule.
A complete team-by-team breakdown of UK’s non-conference foes is below:
ALBANY (Rupp Arena, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015)
Kentucky and Albany will meet for the first time in program history on Nov. 13, 2015 in Rupp Arena in the season-opening game. Albany is coming off its third consecutive American East Championship and NCAA Tournament berth. The Great Danes were a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament after earning an automatic bid on a game-winning shot in the league’s championship game. This game will be a part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.
The Great Danes were 24-9 overall in 2014-15 under the direction of Will Brown. Brown has guided Albany to five NCAA Tournament berths in his 14 years as head coach. The No. 14 seed was the highest in the five tournament berths under Brown. The 2015 American East Coach of the Year owns the most league championships of any American East coach and is 5-0 in conference tournament championship games. The Great Danes will return two of their top three scorers from last season in Peter Hooley (13.7) and Evan Singletary (13.0).
New Jersey Institute of Technology (Rupp Arena, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015)
NJIT will mark the second first-time opponent for the Wildcats to open the season when the Highlanders visit Rupp Arena on Nov. 14. NJIT is coming off a 21-12 overall record in 2014-15, which included an upset at No. 17 Michigan. The Highlanders participated in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament and advanced to the semifinals before falling to Northern Arizona, 68-61. This game will also be a part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.
The Highlanders are coached by Jim Engles, who has been with the program since 2008-09 and helped the school to the Great West Conference championship in 2013. Damon Lynn and Tim Coleman highlight the returning players. Lynn was the team’s leading scorer at 17.5 points per game, while Coleman was one of four Highlanders to average double-figure scoring in 2014-15.
DUKE (United Center, Chicago, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015)
Kentucky will take on the reigning national champions in Duke at the Champions Classic in the United Center in Chicago on Nov. 17. It will mark the 21st meeting between the two bluebloods and the first since a neutral-site meeting during the 2012-13 season in Atlanta. The Wildcats own an 11-9 overall record in the series, but the Blue Devils have won each of the previous three meetings.
Duke is coached by Mike Krzyzewski, who has garnered more than 1,000 career wins and four national titles. The Blue Devils will be paced by returning players Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, who all played more than 20 minutes in the national title game.
WRIGHT STATE (Rupp Arena, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015)
The Wildcats will take on Wright State in Rupp Arena on Nov. 20. It will mark the fourth game in the series and the first since 1999. Kentucky is 3-0 all-time in the series with two of the three previous meetings taking place in Lexington.
The Raiders are coming off an 11-20 overall season under the direction of sixth-year head coach Billy Donlon. Donlon was named the Horizon League Coach of the Year in 2013 after the Raiders were picked to finish last, took the third seed in the league tournament and finished the season at 23-13, tying the school record for Division I wins and advancing to the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational. Wright State returns its leading scorer in senior forward J.T. Yoho, who averaged 15.6 points and 6.4 rebounds as a junior.
BOSTON (Rupp Arena, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015)
Kentucky will entertain Boston for the second-consecutive season and the third time under Calipari on Nov. 24. UK is 4-0 all-time against the Terriers, which includes an 89-65 victory a season ago. Junior Dominque Hawkins had a career-high seven points in the win, including a highlight-reel alley-oop dunk in the second half. This will be the third game as part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.
The Terriers are led by fifth-year head coach Joe Jones. Jones has guided Boston to a pair of postseason appearances and a regular-season Patriot League championship in 2014. The Terriers will return leading-scorer Cedric Hankerson (15.9) as well as John Papale, who shared team most valuable player honors with Hankerson. Papale averaged 9.2 points and dished out a team-high 102 assists a season ago.
SOUTH FLORIDA (American Airlines Arena, Miami, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015)
Kentucky will travel to Miami to participate in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at the American Airlines Arena on Nov. 27. UK’s opponent will be South Florida under the direction of former assistant coach Orlando Antigua. It will mark the first meeting between the two schools, as well as the first meeting between Antigua and his mentor in Calipari. Antigua spent six seasons as an assistant under Calipari including the first five years at Kentucky and one more at Memphis.
Antigua led the Bulls to a 9-23 record in his debut season in South Beach. The Bulls have nine returning players off of that roster, including Chris Perry who was second in scoring a season ago at 10.8 points per game.
ILLINOIS STATE (Rupp Arena, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015)
UK will meet its third first-time opponent of the season in Illinois State on Nov. 30 in Rupp Arena. The Redbirds earned a 22-13 record in 2014-15, advancing to the second round of the NIT after falling short in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The Redbirds upset No. 8 Wichita State during their MVC Tournament run, and ISU has beaten at least one top-25 team in each of its last four seasons.
The Redbirds are led by fourth-year head coach and former Illinois State star Dan Muller. In his first three seasons as head coach, Muller has upset three top-25 ranked teams and is the only coach in program history to achieve that feat. Senior guard DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell highlights the returners for Illinois State after ranking second on the team with 12.8 points per game in 2014-15.
UCLA (Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015) Kentucky and UCLA signed a two-year home-and-home series in December of 2014 set to begin on Dec. 3, 2015 in Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA. It will mark the Wildcats first visit to UCLA's storied facility. UCLA will return the trip on Dec. 3, 2016 in what will be the first matchup of the two bluebloods in Rupp Arena history.
The Wildcats own an all-time record of 7-4 against the Bruins, which includes an 83-44 win in 2014-15 at the United Center in Chicago. UK’s Tyler Ulis scored seven points and dished out six assists in that meeting. UCLA went 22-14 overall a season ago and advanced to the Sweet 16 in each of the two seasons under the direction of head coach Steve Alford. The Bruins will be led by junior guard Bryce Alford who averaged 15.4 points per game as a sophomore.
EASTERN KENTUCKY (Rupp Arena, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015)
UK will take on EKU for the second consecutive season in Rupp Arena on Dec. 9. The Wildcats are 11-0 all-time against the Colonels with all but one meeting coming in Lexington. UK claimed an 82-49 victory a season ago. Kentucky’s Marcus Lee scored a season-high 10 points in the victory to help lead the way for the Cats.
EKU went 21-12 this past season and made its third straight appearance in a postseason tournament. Eastern finished first in the Ohio Valley Conference East Division and the Colonels have finished in the top three in the conference each of the last three seasons. First-year Eastern Kentucky head coach Dan McHale is a Kentucky graduate, and the former men’s basketball manager will face his alma matter for the first time this season. The Colonels have 10 returning players from its 2014-15 roster.
ARIZONA STATE (Rupp Arena, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015)
Kentucky is set to host Arizona State under the direction of first-year head coach Bobby Hurley on Dec. 12 in Rupp Arena. The Wildcats own an all-time record of 3-0 against the Sun Devils with the last meeting coming in 2003 in Maui, Hawaii. The teams have met just once before in Lexington in a 94-68 win during the 1991-92 season.
Hurley takes over the Sun Devils program after leading Buffalo to its first-ever Mid-American Conference title and NCAA Tournament berth. His 42 wins at Buffalo were the most ever for a head coach through their first two seasons, including a record-tying 23 wins in 2014-15. Hurley’s Bulls lost to the Wildcats in Rupp Arena, 71-52, in 2014-15. Arizona State earned an 18-16 overall record a season ago.
OHIO STATE (Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y., Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015)
Ohio State and Kentucky will meet in the second annual CBS Sports Classic in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Dec. 19. UK owns an 11-8 all-time mark against the Buckeyes with the last meeting coming in 2011 during the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats knocked off the No. 1 seeded-Buckeyes in that meeting to advance to its second consecutive Elite Eight and eventually its first Final Four under Calipari.
The Buckeyes were 24-11 overall in 2014-15 before falling to No. 1 seed Arizona in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State lost its top two returning scorers from a season ago, but head coach Thad Matta is a proven winner who has led the Buckeyes to nine NCAA Tournament berths and an NIT championship as he enters his 12th year as head coach of the program.
LOUISVILLE (Rupp Arena, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015)
The Wildcats will host instate rival Louisville on Dec. 26 in Rupp Arena. UK is 33-15 all-time against the Cardinals and has won seven of the last eight meetings in the series, including two wins in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky and Louisville met for the first time as top-five ranked teams and unbeatens in 2014-15 and UK prevailed in the Yum! Center by a 58-50 score. Ulis enjoyed the best game of his young career with a career-high 14 points and two assists.
Louisville went 27-9 a season ago and advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to Michigan State. Rick Pitino’s top four leading scorers will not be among roster members in 2015-16 but reinforcements are on the way with a highly touted recruiting class. Pitino will enter his 16th year with the Cardinals’ program and has led them to 12 NCAA Tournaments, including the 2013 NCAA title.
KANSAS (Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016) The two winningest schools in NCAA Division I history will meet during the 2015-16 season when Kentucky plays Kansas as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 30. The Wildcats will visit Lawrence, Kan., for their first trip to Allen Fieldhouse since 2006 and just their second since the 1989-1990 season. Kentucky is 22-6 all-time against the Jayhawks, which includes last season’s 72-40 win at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Returning Wildcats Hawkins, Alex Poythress, Ulis and Derek Willis combined for 17 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks and three steals in that victory.
The Jayhawks were 27-9 overall in 2014-15 and advanced to their 26th consecutive NCAA Tournament after winning their 12th consecutive Big 12 title under 13th-year head coach Bill Self. Leading scorer Perry Ellis (13.8) will pace the returning players in 2015-16.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught