Kentucky took a few shots from national pundits when the Wildcats could not reach a new deal to extend their annual rivalry series against Indiana. Some even criticized John Calipari's schedule as "soft," somehow ignoring what SI.com's Andy Glockner has so adeptly broken down in his latest "Inside College Basketball" offering.
According to Glockner, the defending national champions will be featured in two of the upcoming season's top three non-conference games. The Cats also get a third entry on the Top 25 list. (The list does not include potential tournament matchups like the Maui Invitational.)
Coming in at No. 1 is the Battle of the Bluegrass, a Dec. 29 rematch of last year's national semifinal between Kentucky and Louisville. The Cats and Cards should both be ranked in the Top 5 when that game rolls around – possibly No. 1 and No. 2 – and you have the ongoing drama that surrounds the alleged strained relationship between Calipari and Rick Pitino, the latter who will be seeking his first win over Calipari since he came to UK. Throw in what should be a raucous crowd at the Yum! Center, and you're looking at a great setting for "the best soap opera in the sport at the moment," Glockner wrote.
The Cats also make the list at No. 3 for their Nov. 13 Champions Classic showdown against Duke, their first regular-season matchup with the Blue Devils since the 2001-02 season. The two programs are forever linked by their postseason matchups, including the 1978 national championship game and the 1992 East Regional final that many still consider to be the best college basketball game ever played. Oddly, though, they seldom meet in the regular season. Since 1980, there have only been four regular-season games between two of the sport's elite programs. (Sidenote: Duke has won all of them.) This game in Atlanta could also pit the most recent gold medal coach for USA Basketball, Mike Krzyzewski, against the man, Calipari, who many suggest should get the next call to represent the country.
Kentucky's SEC-Big East challenge game at Notre Dame on Nov. 29 comes in at No. 8 on the list. It's not as sexy as the other two matchups, but the Fighting Irish have a way of giving top-ranked teams fits at home. Since the Joyce Center opened in 1968, Notre Dame has played host to 10 No. 1-ranked teams on its home court. The Irish have won seven times, including last year's 67-58 win over Syracuse. Perhaps the Cats won't be too upset if they go into that one ranked No. 2.
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