NCAA B

Kentucky to face brutal non-conference schedule

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The Kentucky Wildcats will be tested on its path to return to the national championship game (©GettyImages)
The Kentucky Wildcats will be tested on its path to return to the national championship game (©GettyImages).

It stands to reason that national-championship contender Kentucky would take a break with its non-conference schedule, considering the difficulty of its match-ups against other Southeastern Conference teams.

Think again though, because that's not what Wildcats coach John Calipari is doing.

The Wildcats announced a competitive 2014-15 non-conference slate last week and will play Kansas (Nov. 18), Texas (Dec. 5), North Carolina (Dec. 13), UCLA (Dec. 20) and Louisville (Dec. 27).

That three-week stretch before the New Year will be especially brutal. Each of those squads made the NCAA tournament last season, were ranked in the top 100 of the RPI and are ranked in the top eight programs for all-time NCAA Championships.

The rest of the schedule is tough too though.

Kentucky will play Buffalo, Grand Canyon, Montana State and Texas-Arlington in a short stretch during the Cawood Ledford Classic. Then they will participate in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, in December.

The Wildcats are getting into competitive matches early, perhaps to prepare themselves for the wild slate of games they will see later in the year. They are set to play in the Bahamas in August, one of six NCAA Tournament teams to make the trip.

Ready to play

Still, if any team can take on such a challenging schedule, it would be the Wildcats.

They are perhaps the most NBA-caliber college team in the league, routinely bringing in top recruits from across the country. Kentucky has the second-ranked recruiting class of 2014, according to ESPN.com. Five-star recruits Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr. head that group.

Of course, the players who are returning to Kentucky are no slouches either.

Willie Cauley-Stein, a 7-foot center considered one of the most talented big-men in the game, will suit up for his junior season. He was key to the Wildcats defensive scheme when he did play before sustaining an ankle injury in the Sweet 16.

Andrew and Aaron Harrison both return at the guard spots, after creating some of the most highlight-worthy plays of the NCAA Tournament in March. As sophomores, they should benefit from the experience of their extended run to the championship.

Big men Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee round out the returning Wildcats.

Calipari has, at times, been accused of not making the most of the vast talent he has recruited in his four seasons as coach. However, in the last three years, his team has played in the title game twice.

That national championship experience combined with its talent could result in a third championship despite the Wildcat's difficult schedule.

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March Madness
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