Analyzing Kentucky’s 2015-16 Non-Conference Schedule

Tyler Ulis returns to lead the Kentucky Wildcats into the 2015-16 season, where the Wildcats won't have the hype of 2014-15, but will have talented pieces in place. (Source: Sporting News)
Tyler Ulis returns to lead the Kentucky Wildcats into the 2015-16 season, where the Wildcats won’t have the hype of 2014-15, but will have talented pieces in place. (Source: Sporting News)

Last season, the platoon offense that John Calipari ran at Kentucky made headlines throughout the year. The Wildcats ran to a 38 – 0 record, and advanced to the Final Four to meet the Wisconsin Badgers.

Despite their perfect record, the Wildcats couldn’t finish the year undefeated. They suffered a loss to Bo Ryan’s Badgers, ending their run at perfection.

As the off-season rolled along, the Wildcats remained firmly in the headlines. Their top 7 scorers from last season all declared for the NBA Draft, headlined by Willie Cauley-Stein, the Harrison twins, and talented freshmen Devin Booker and Trey Lyles.

John Calipari then stated that he would no longer run the platoon offense, stating that’s not how he likes to coach.

In 2015-16, the Wildcats don’t have the loaded roster that they had last season. However, they do have talented pieces back in place. Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee, and Alex Poythress are all back to provide some veteran leadership for the Wildcats. Add in freshmen Skal Labissiere,  Isaiah Briscoe and Charles Matthews, and the Wildcats are once again among the elite in the country.

Their non-conference schedule was recently released, and we decided to take a deeper look at what the early part of the 2015-16 has in store for this edition of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Kentucky Wildcats’ 2015-16 Non-Conference Schedule

November 13th: v. Albany Great Danes
November 14th: v. NJIT Highlanders
November 17th: v. Duke Blue Devils
November 20th: v. Wright State Raiders
November 24th: v. Boston Univ. Terriers
November 27th: v. South Florida Bulls
November 30th: v. Illinois State Redbirds
December 3rd: @ UCLA Bruins
December 9th: v. Eastern Kentucky Colonels
December 12th: v. Arizona State Sun Devils
December 19th: v. Ohio State Buckeyes
December 26th: v. Louisville Cardinals
January 30th: @ Kansas Jayhawks

Looking at their schedule, the co-favourites for the NCAA title look to have a tough road ahead of them as they look to make it back to the Final Four in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Their season kicks off with back-to-back contests against two of the better mid-major programs from the 2014-15 season, in the Albany Great Danes and the N.J.I.T. Highlanders. While both teams are losing key contributors from a season ago, Kentucky cannot afford to overlook these two schools to open the season.

After that, the Wildcats take on the Duke Blue Devils in the Champions Classic. The defending national champions have a loaded roster, and will provide the Wildcats with arguably their toughest test of the non-conference slate.

Kentucky doesn’t have a “true” road game until they travel to Pauley Pavilion in December to take on the UCLA Bruins.

The game against the Bruins kicks off a grueling five game stretch for the Wildcats. Year in and year out, Eastern Kentucky is no slouch, and are consistently one of the better mid-major programs in the country. Then they have Arizona State, Ohio State, and the big Kentucky rivalry game against Louisville. Lucky for Kentucky, the four games following their date at UCLA are all inside Rupp Arena.

If SEC play wasn’t grueling enough for the Wildcats to begin with, the Big 12 – SEC challenge in 2015-16 is sandwiched right in the middle of conference play. Unfortunately for Kentucky, they get the pleasure of travelling to Allen Fieldhouse to take of Perry Ellis and the Kansas Jayhawks. Both Kansas and Kentucky have some of the best rosters in the country, and with Bill Self facing off against John Calipari, this is a game you will want to circle on your calendars.

There’s no reason to say that Kentucky couldn’t go undefeated again this year through non-conference play, but the road to that point is going to be much more difficult than it was last season. Don’t bet on them doing it again, as they face more talented opponents and do not have a talent-rich roster like they did last season.

With that being said, expect Kentucky to be a firm fixture in the national title picture for the entire 2015-16 season, and a real threat to be cutting down the news come April.

– T.B.