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May 2, 2013

Breaking down UK's non-league basketball schedule

A game-by-game look at Kentucky's 2013-14 nonconference basketball schedule:

UNC ASHEVILLE | Nov. 8 | Rupp Arena
Last season: 16-16 (10-6 Big South); No postseason; Final RPI 219
Starters returning: Three
Top players: G Keith Hornsby (15 ppg, 4.2 rpg 3.1 apg), G Trent Meyer (9.7 ppg, 3.9 apg), F Will Weeks (9 ppg, 5.4 rbg)

About the Bulldogs: It's a loaded nonconference schedule, but the Cats will start with a break when UNC Asheville comes to town. First-year head coach Nick McDevitt will bring back several key pieces from last season's team, including five of its top six scorers. The Bulldogs started 9-2 in the Big South before losing six of their last seven. UNC Asheville can size up with the Cats; the Bulldogs have two centers 6-foot-10 or taller.
NORTHERN KENTUCKY | Nov. 10 | Rupp Arena
Last season: 11-16 (9-9 Atlantic Sun); No postseason; Final RPI 264
Starters returning: Two
Top players: F Jalen Billups (10.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), F Chad Jackson (10.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg), G Tyler White (6.0 ppg)

About the Norse: Northern Kentucky just completed its first season playing Division-I basketball and will make the 84-mile in-state trek to play in Rupp Arena, the location of coach Dave Bezold's first (exhibition) game as a head coach in 2004. This won't be competitive, but it will be one of those feel-good in-state games on the home schedule.
MICHIGAN STATE | Nov. 12 | Chicago (United Center)
Last season: 27-9 (13-5 Big Ten); NCAA Sweet 16; Final RPI 6
Starters returning: Four
Top players: G Keith Appling (13.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg), G Gary Harris (12.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg), F Adreian Payne (10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg)

About the Spartans: This figures to provide one of Kentucky's toughest nonconference challenges. Tom Izzo's team lost to Duke in the Sweet 16 but returns six of its top seven scorers from last season, and though Michigan State doesn't add a top 100 recruit, the Spartans figure to be stacked. Payne is the sort of big, athletic frontcourt player teams will need to play Kentucky tough next season, and in Appling and Harris, Michigan State has talented, experienced guards.
ROBERT MORRIS | Nov. 17 | Rupp Arena (Keightley Classic)
Last season: 24-11 (14-4 Northeast Conference); NIT second round; Final RPI 120
Starters returning: Three
Top players: G Karvel Anderson (12.5 ppg), G Lucky Jones (11.6 ppg, 6 rpg), Mike McFadden (8.5 ppg)

About the Colonials: If next season is in fact a "Revenge Tour" for UK, then the Cats' first crack at redemption comes against Robert Morris in the first game of the Keightley Classic. The meeting in the fall will have a much different feel than the game in March. For starters it's at Rupp Arena, nearly eight times the size of the Charles L. Sewall Center. Also, the Colonials will be without three of the top five scorers from a team that bounced UK from the NIT.
TEXAS-ARLINGTON | Nov. 19 | Rupp Arena (Keightley Classic)
Last season: 19-14 (11-7 Sun Belt); No postseason; Final RPI 135
Starters returning: Two
Top players: F Brandon Edwards (7.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg), F Greg Gainey (6.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg), G Shaquille White-Miller (4.9 ppg, 3.9 apg)

About the Mavericks: Texas-Arlington loses most of its top production, but the Mavericks weren't going to give Kentucky a test anyway. "They're going to be one of the highest-ranked teams in the preseason, maybe as high as No. 1, and I wanted to expose our guys to that level of competition," Texas-Arlington coach Scott Cross in a release. The Mavericks lost at Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State last season.
CLEVELAND STATE | Nov. 25 | Rupp Arena (Keightley Classic)
Last season: 14-18 (5-11 Horizon League); No postseason; Final RPI 203
Starters returning: Four
Top players: F Anton Grady (13.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), G Bryn Forbes (12.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg), G Charlie Lee (11.6 ppg, 4.8 apg)

About the Vikings: Expect Gary Waters' team to take a step forward in 2013-14. Cleveland State returns four players who started down the stretch last season and will welcome back Grady, who played only six games before suffering a knee injury. The 6-foot-8 Grady averaged 8.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots in 21.2 minutes per game as a freshman and was off to a quick start as a sophomore before his injury.
EASTERN MICHIGAN | Nov. 27 | Rupp Arena (Keightley Classic)
Last season: 16-18 (7-9 MAC); No postseason; Final RPI 236
Starters returning: Four
Top players: F Glenn Bryant (10.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg), G-F Daylen Harrison (8.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), G J.R. Sims (5.8 ppg)

About the Eagles: Eastern Michigan is no stranger to Rupp Arena, where it suffered its worst defeat of this past season, pummeled by the Cats 90-38. And while a 52-point victory will be hard to top, there's no reason to believe UK won't cruise past Eastern Michigan next season. Although the Eagles are retuning four starters, they will be without leading scorer Derek Thompson. This game will be the finale of the Keightley Classic.
PROVIDENCE | Dec. 1 | Brooklyn, N.Y. (Barclays Center)
Last season: 19-15 (9-9 Big East); NIT quarterfinals; Final RPI 86
Starters returning: Four
Top players: G Bryce Cotton (19.7 ppg, 2.9 apg), F Kadeem Batts (14.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), F LaDontae Henton (13.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg)

About the Friars: Unlike Kentucky, Providence beat Robert Morris in the NIT. But that's so last year, and the Friars aren't going to better than a mediocre team. They'll have experience - their top three players return - but Ricky Ledo's decision to enter the NBA before playing a game hurt the Friar's chances of making a move up the college basketball hierarchy.
BAYLOR | Dec. 6 | Arlington, Texas (Cowboys Stadium)
Last season: 23-14 (9-9 Big 12); NIT champion; Final RPI 55
Starters returning: Three
Top players: C Isaiah Austin (13 ppg, 8.3 rpg), F Cory Jefferson (13.3 ppg, 8 rpg), G Brady Heslip (8.5 ppg, 83 three-pointers)

About the Bears: The NBA early entry deadline was good to Baylor, which returns Austin and Jefferson as the foundation of a potent frontcourt. The Bears won the NIT and beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena last season, and though point guard Pierre Jackson is a big loss, Baylor reloads with a Top 20 recruiting class that includes junior-college point guard Kenny Chery. Freshman forward Ishmail Wainwright should add toughness.
BOISE STATE | Dec. 10 | Rupp Arena
Last season: 21-11 (9-7 Mountain West); NCAA Round of 64; Final RPI 50
Starters returning: Five
Top players: G-F Anthony Drmic (17.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.3 apg), G Derrick Marks (16.3, 3.6 rpg, 3.9 apg), F Ryan Watkins (8.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg)

About the Broncos: Boise State will likely be ranked when it faces UK for the first time ever, returning its top six scorers from an NCAA tournament team. Just four days after this matchup UK will take on North Carolina. If the Cats aren't focused on the Broncos, Boise State has the talent to pull off the upset. Anthony Drmic can score from anywhere, and he's one of the few guards in the country that will be able to size up with UK's Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron.
at NORTH CAROLINA | Dec. 14 | Chapel Hill, N.C. (Dean Smith Center)
Last season: 25-11 (12-6 ACC); NCAA Round of 32; Final RPI 19
Starters returning: Three
Top players: F James Michael McAdoo (14.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg), G P.J. Hairston (14.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg), G Marcus Paige (8.2 ppg, 4.6 apg), C Kennedy Meeks (freshman rated No. 4 at his position and No. 57 overall), F Isaiah Hicks (freshman rated No. 6 at PF and No. 16 overall)

About the Tar Heels: Carolina will have a solid core group returning from a team that slightly underwhelmed but showed potential down the stretch in reaching the ACC Tournament final. Its strength will be in the frontcourt, where McAdoo - who could have a breakout year - will pair up with two five-star prospects. North Carolina is projected as a top-15 team next season, and playing in the Dean Dome is always a challenge.
BELMONT | Dec. 21 | Rupp Arena
Last season: 26-7 (14-2 OVC); NCAA round of 64; Final RPI 24
Starters returning: Two
Top players: G J.J. Mann (10.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg), F Blake Jenkins (9.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg)

About the Bruins: About the Bruins: Belmont lost three senior starters from a team that was a hip pick to upset Arizona in the NCAA Tournament, but expectations rarely dip in Nashville. The Bruins have made six NCAA appearances in eight seasons, and they have a schedule designed to vault them to another with a strong RPI. Belmont will play North Carolina in addition to Kentucky. Coach Rick Byrd says his coaching philosophy is to provide challenges and memories for his players, and taking on Kentucky "certainly qualifies."
LOUISVILLE | Dec. 28 | Rupp Arena
Last season: 35-5 (14-4 Big East); NCAA champion; Final RPI 2
Starters returning: Three
Top players: G Russ Smith (18.7 ppg, 2.1 spg) Chane Behanan (9.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Luke Hancock (8.1 ppg)

About the Cardinals: This meeting between the two most recent NCAA champions might be the most anticipated game in Rupp Arena history. Russ Smith's return means the Cards are legit contenders to repeat, and while Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng will be significant losses, national JUCO Player of the Year Chris Jones should be able help when enrolls at Louisville this summer. The Cards also return Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock while adding guards Anton Gill and Terry Rozier.

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