Ranking UK's five toughest non-conference basketball games
1. Michigan State (New York)
The Spartans will be a very popular choice for the preseason No. 1 spot in the national rankings and some early Vegas lines have them as a leading contender to win the 2019-20 championship. Rather than depart for the NBA, Cassius Winston has opted to return to East Lansing and most everything else returns for Tom Izzo. He has a chance to be a first team All-American. Any time a Final Four team (32-7 record) returns this much, they should be regarded as a force to be reckoned with.
2. at Texas Tech
Texas Tech makes two 2018-19 Final Four teams on Kentucky's 2019-20 schedule. Chris Beard is one of the sport's hottest coaching commodities but he's returning to Lubbock for at least one more year following a remarkable run to the championship game, which almost produced an improbable championship. Replacing Jarrett Culver, one of the nation's best two-way players and a high draft pick, will not be easy. But the team's defensive grit shouldn't go away. This is a program that has reached two consecutive Elite Eights so they may be here to stay as long as Beard is around. Most "way too early" rankings don't have Texas Tech at the very top of the national rankings but they will start the year with a Top 15 ranking. TTU has to replace most of its starting lineup but between Beard's freshmen and some transfers this will be a very tough game, especially on the road.
Put aside Kentucky's record against Louisville over the last decade, because this game should be a war even in Rupp Arena. Chris Mack's second Cardinal team could be a national contender. With Lamarr Kimble transferring into the program and both Steven Enoch and Jordan Nwora returning, among a number of others, this team should be competitive with any in the country and appears to be a Top-10 squad.
4. Ohio State (Las Vegas)
Ohio State isn't the most experienced team in the country going into this year but the Buckeyes will be one of the Big Ten's most talented squads and have the roster balance to make a deep run if they start to click at the right time. The Buckeyes won't be the favorites against Kentucky in Vegas, but they have enough talent to make the Cats sweat. This should be a neutral site game between two ranked teams.
5. Utah (Las Vegas)
One could make a case for Georgia Tech or UAB here, but both of those teams have to travel to Rupp and each have major questions. The Utes have questions as well but draw Kentucky in Las Vegas days before the Wildcats take on Ohio State in a game that UK could be looking ahead to. While Kentucky drilled Utah in Lexington last season in one of its most impressive performances of last season, the Pac-12 team did manage to finish the year a competitive 17-14 and their 11-7 league mark was good for third in the conference. The front court also returns 7-footer Jayce Jonson and 6'7 forward Both Gach, who averaged 7.7 points as a freshman. Overall this is a team that should be fairly experienced and they were 10-5 down the stretch last year.