The SEC released its full men’s basketball schedule on Friday and Kentucky — ranked No. 13 in the latest CBS Sports Top 25 (and one) — easily has one of the toughest slates to face in 2020-21. The Wildcats open their season against Morehead State on Nov. 25 but it quickly toughens, with tests against Kansas, UCLA and Louisville sprinkled throughout the month of December.
Then there is the SEC slate, where in January, the Wildcats will travel to Florida, Auburn, Georgia and Alabama prior to the Big 12/SEC Challenge to end the month against Shaka Smart and Texas.
We’ll learn plenty about this young team and how quickly the core — which consists of 10 newcomers — can come along. But in terms of measuring progress, we’ll learn the most by how the team fares in its most challenging battles. So below, we’ve ranked the five toughest tests of the season.
1. Kansas in Champions Classic, Dec. 1
This game will be held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, as CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander confirmed on Friday. And it’s one of the early ones on the schedule (game number four, to be exact). Kansas lost Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike but still has a strong core returning led by Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett, and its backcourt should present a real challenge to UK’s.
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2. At Tennessee, Feb. 20
Circle this one on your calendar because it has a chance to be a great one that could potentially determine the SEC regular-season race. The Vols return Yves Pons, John Fulkerson and Santiago Vescovi, among others, and have also signed two five-star guards to join the mix this season. Their blend of top-end talent and experience could put them over the top in the league, and they enter the season as the highest-ranked SEC team in our rankings. And UK has lost at Tennessee in four of the last five seasons.
3. UCLA in CBS Sports Classic, Dec. 19
UCLA might be the best team in the Pac-12 and Kentucky might be the best team in the SEC. Who doesn’t want to see these two facing off, especially considering their status in the bluebooded hierarchy of the sport? The Bruins won 11 of their final 14 games to end the season and return their top five scorers, among them Chris Smith, a potential first-round talent who could give this Kentucky team real fits in the frontcourt.
4. At Louisville, Dec. 26
There was plenty of hand-wringing about this one — particularly about whether it would happen and where it would happen if it indeed did. But in the end the show is on, and Kentucky-Louisville remains one of the sport’s best rivalries. Going to the KFC Yum Center is no joke for Kentucky, either. Louisville coach Chris Mack lost some key pieces from the roster last year, but Carlik Jones and David Johnson are experienced and talented enough to give UK all it can handle here. We’re still well over a month away, but knowing what I know about each of the two teams, I think Louisville wins this one.
5. Texas in Big 12/SEC Challenge, Jan. 30
Texas essentially returns its entire roster and adds five-star, top-10 recruit Greg Brown to the mix of a team that went 19-12 and claimed victories in five of its final six games. The continuity is there for UT to finally — finally! — be a force under Shaka Smart. We’ll see if the pieces come together and the momentum continues, but the Longhorns have a ton of length and talent to contend with UK and make this one a real battle.
Kentucky’s 2020-21 schedule
|Nov. 25||Morehead State (Bluegrass Showcase)||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Nov. 27||Detroit Mercy (Bluegrass Showcase)||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Nov. 29||Richmond (Bluegrass Showcase)||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Dec. 1||vs. Kansas (Champions Classic)||TBD|
|Dec. 6||vs. Georgia Tech (Holiday Hoopsgiving)||State Farm Arena (Atlanta)|
|Dec. 12||Notre Dame||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Dec. 19||vs. UCLA (CBS Sports Classic)||Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse (Cleveland)|
|Dec. 26||at Louisville||KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Ky.)|
|Dec. 29||South Carolina*||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Jan. 2||at Mississippi State*||Humphrey Coliseum (Starkville, Miss.)|
|Jan. 5||Vanderbilt*||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Jan. 9||at Florida*||Exactech Arena (Gainesville, Fla.)|
|Jan. 12||Alabama*||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Jan. 16||at Auburn*||Auburn Arena (Auburn, Ala.)|
|Jan. 20||at Georgia*||Stegeman Coliseum (Athens, Ga.)|
|Jan. 23||LSU*||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Jan. 26||at Alabama*||Coleman Coliseum (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)|
|Jan. 30||Texas (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Feb. 2||at Missouri*||Mizzou Arena (Columbia, Mo.)|
|Feb. 6||Tennessee*||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Feb. 9||Arkansas*||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Feb. 13||Auburn*||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Feb. 17||at Vanderbilt*||Memorial Gymnasium (Nashville, Tenn.)|
|Feb. 20||at Tennessee*||Thompson-Boling Arena (Knoxville, Tenn.)|
|Feb. 23||Texas A&M*||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|Feb. 27||Florida*||Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)|
|March 2||at Ole Miss*||The Pavilion at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss.)|
|March 10-14||SEC Tournament||Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, Tenn|
* – SEC game