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Breaking down UK's 2012-13 non-conference schedule

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On Tuesday, Kentucky unveiled its men's basketball non-conference schedule for the 2012-13 season. It features nine home games, two road games and two neutral-site games, plus two exhibitions in Rupp Arena and the annual staples of Big Blue Madness and the Blue-White game.

You can read more details about the schedule in Eric Lindsey's post here, but this will be a slightly different look at UK's non-conference slate. In breaking down the schedule into segments, we'll be touching on each opponent a bit individually as well as evaluating what UK will be looking to get out of the non-conference in preparing for Southeastern Conference play and beyond.

Getting to know the Cats

Big Blue Madness - Friday, Oct. 12
Blue-White Game - Wednesday, Oct. 24
Northwood (exh.) - Thursday, Nov. 1
Transylvania (exh.) - Monday, Nov. 5

A season ago, John Calipari was incorporating four freshmen with a team returning a senior and two sophomores well-known to the Big Blue Nation. Fans knew all about Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer and pollsters dubbed the Cats an early-season title frontrunner, but no one really knew what kind of team the Wildcats would be.

That's where this initial stretch came in, and figures to come in again this season with a team featuring even more new faces.

Davis thrilled fans with his incredible shot-blocking during Big Blue Madness. Could Nerlens Noel do the same this year? Terrence Jones showed off his improvement with 52 points in the Blue-White Scrimmage in 2011. Will Kyle Wiltjer be the guy to prove how much better he is this time around? In two exhibitions to follow, UK figures to overwhelm opponents with sheer talent, but if you'll remember, Transylvania created some nervous moments in 2011, staying close deep into the first half in the schools' first matchup in a century.

All in all, the season won't be made or broken in October and early November, but crucial relationships will be formed as the team practices together full-time and takes the floor in Rupp Arena for the first times. Teammates will learn about each other, Coach Cal will begin to learn about his new team and fans will get to know the team they'll be rooting on for the next 33 to 40 games.

Stiff tests out of the gate

Maryland - Friday, Nov. 9 (Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Duke - Tuesday, Nov. 13 (Georgia Dome, Atlanta)

There might not be a team that faces two schools with bigger names to start the regular season than UK.

It starts with a game against Maryland as part of the Barclays Center Classic, when the Cats will take on the Terrapins in the first college game to be played in the new home of the Brooklyn Nets. It will be the first matchup between the two teams since 2001, when Maryland defeated UK in the Sweet 16 en route to a national championship.

Maryland will play its second season under Mark Turgeon, who left Texas A&M to succeed Gary Williams. The Terps were 17-15 a season ago, but could be improved with the return of sophomore 7-footer Alex Len and classmate Nick Faust. The pair will be joined by a six-man recruiting class ranked 18th nationally according to

Four days later, UK will play in another made-for-TV matchup with an ACC opponent, this one even more enticing. Perhaps no team catches the eye of Kentucky fans more than Duke, but the Cats haven't played the Blue Devils since 2002. In March, the two teams seemed on an Elite Eight collision course before Duke fell in upset fashion.

With notable departures on both sides (Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee for Duke), this game will have a different feel than the one that didn't happen last season, but it should still be very interesting. Part of another State Farm Champions Classic doubleheader, the game will be played at a relative midpoint between the two schools in the Georgia Dome and the crowd figures to be fired up. The Devils will be integrating two McDonald's All-Americans in Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon into an experienced, guard-heavy roster.

Losing one of these two games is certainly a possibility for UK, but Coach Cal won't be evaluating his young bunch on wins and losses at this point in the season. Calipari is getting what he wants out of his non-conference schedule in these games, playing a pair of high-profile opponents on a big stage similar to the kind of games UK will face come tournament time.

Finding a rhythm

Lafayette (Pa.) - Friday, Nov. 16
Morehead State - Wednesday, Nov. 21
Long Island - Friday, Nov. 23

By this point, Calipari will have a better idea of his team's strengths and areas for improvement. Three home games will give the Cats a chance to work on those things while facing opponents that will play contrasting styles.

Opening this stretch is the first-ever matchup with the Lafayette (Pa.) Leopards of the Patriot League. Fran O'Hanlon is entering his 18th season as head coach, coming off a 15-18 record in 2011-12. The Leopards lose a few key players to graduation, but should challenge UK from outside. Lafayette took and made lots of 3-pointers last season, scoring the second-highest percentage of its points from 3-point range (39.3 percent) in the NCAA.

Next, UK hosts in-state foe Morehead State with former Wildcat great and "Unforgettable" Sean Woods in his first season as head coach. The Eagles are just two seasons removed from a memorable first-round upset of Louisville and last played UK in Calipari's first game as head coach back in 2009. Look for Woods to implement a more up-tempo style in his first season with his new team.

Speaking of fast-paced basketball, the team that will come to Lexington after Morehead likes to run as much as any in the country. Under Jim Ferry, Long Island ranked among the nation's top teams in adjusted tempo each of the past two seasons according to Ferry has since been named head coach at Duquesne, but understudy Jack Perri is unlikely to change the script after back-to-back NCAA berths.

Early-season progress reports

at Notre Dame - Thursday, Nov. 29 (SEC/Big East Challenge)
Baylor - Saturday, Dec. 1

After three games in a week at home, another road trip quickly follows for the Cats. This time, UK will play its first true away game of the season against Notre Dame, a team that returns the bulk of its contributors from the 2011-12 edition that went 13-5 in Big East play on the way to a third NCAA Tournament appearance in as many season. A big and boisterous crowd at the Joyce Center will welcome the Wildcats for a game that will serve as a preview of what life will be like on the road in SEC play.

UK returns home for another game two days later, but it won't be an easy one. In a rematch of last season's Atlanta Regional final, the Cats will host Baylor for a game between two teams that lost a combined nine players to the NBA Draft. Though Perry Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy are gone, Scott Drew brings in a top-five recruiting class that includes center Isaiah Austin, the No. 3 overall prospect in the class according to

Like the Bears, UK will be an unfinished product when the two teams face off, but these games against marquee opponents will provide some insight into how Coach Cal's team is coming along.

Home for the holidays

Samford - Tuesday, Dec. 4
Portland - Saturday, Dec. 8
Lipscomb - Saturday, Dec. 15
Marshall - Saturday, Dec. 22

With just four games over three-and-a-half weeks, the Cats will have the opportunity to focus on final exams before focusing on basketball alone during "Camp Cal."

The first two games will be against familiar opponents, as both Samford and Portland will travel to Rupp Arena for a second season in a row. Somewhat strangely, Portland poured in 11 3s against UK last November, while normally hot-shooting Samford hit just three in 16 attempts. The Cats will then have a week between games with Lipscomb and Marshall coming to town the next two Saturday's. Following what could be a challenging game against the Thundering Herd - which played its way onto the NCAA bubble late last season - the Cats will likely be given a few days off for Christmas.

The Dream Game and a final tune-up

at Louisville - Saturday, Dec. 29
Eastern Michigan - Wednesday, Jan 2

After Christmas, UK will have just two more games before going through the SEC's new 18-game schedule for the first time.

Departing from the tradition of the last two seasons, the annual UK-U of L game will not be played on New Year's Eve and will instead move to Dec. 29. For the third time in less than a full calendar year, the Cats and Cardinals will face off, this time in the KFC Yum! Center. Returning the majority of their players from last season's Final Four team, the Cardinals will be ranked in the top five next preseason, making for what could be one of the year's signature games in college basketball and one more chance for Coach Cal's team to face a road environment in preparation for SEC play.

Before conference play begins, UK will host one final non-conference game against Eastern Michigan, a team that relies on the kind of zone defense future opponents could use in an effort to slow down the athletic Cats.

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Is there some reason you could not list the games in order by date?

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  • Guy Ramsey: We didn't list them by date in this story because there are plenty of other places where they are listed read more
  • Sarah Katzenmaier: Is there some reason you could not list the games in order by date? read more