Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats' 5 Biggest Games in 2013-14 Season
After a season that ended in massive disappointment for Kentucky basketball, the 2013-14 season couldn't have higher expectations.
Despite having a preseason ranking in the Top Five, the 2012-13 version of the Wildcats dropped a first-round NIT game to Robert Morris, ending their season. Despite the awful season, Kentucky reloaded with an impressive recruiting class and is the preseason favorite to win the national title in 2013-14.
Despite the talent on Kentucky's roster, no game is a guarantee in college basketball. In order to reach its goals, Kentucky must win tough games both in the SEC and out of conference.
Let's take a look at the five most important games on Kentucky's schedule in 2013-14.
Nov. 12: vs. Michigan State
The game that could possibly be the biggest test of the year will come only three games into the season in an event ironically titled the Champions Classic.
Kentucky travels to Chicago on November 12 to square off against Michigan State in a game that is likely to feature teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls.
The crowd is expected to be split 50-50 with Chicago only a few hours from both schools. With the United Center likely at full capacity, the young Kentucky team will be forced to play in a hostile environment. It will be the first time the Wildcats play away from Big Blue Nation and Rupp Arena.
This game will be important for Willie Cauley-Stein, especially because he will be tested against Michigan State star Adreian Payne. If Cauley-Stein struggles in this game, it could cause some concern going forward or force John Calipari to play Dakari Johnson more.
Dec. 14: at North Carolina
After a one-year hiatus, the rivalry game between two of college basketball's blue bloods picks back up in 2013-14 when Kentucky heads to Chapel Hill.
The December game against the Tar Heels will be the first true road game for Kentucky on the season. Prior to this game, Kentucky will face neutral-site games against Michigan State, Providence and Baylor, but this game will be the first one that is a true road game.
Luckily for the Wildcats, they will have a four-day break after a home game against Boise State before playing in Chapel Hill.
James Michael McAdoo was an expected lottery pick when he came to North Carolina two years ago, but after a struggling sophomore season, he decided to return for his junior year. He should provide a nice challenge for Julius Randle as an experienced player.
Dec. 28: vs. Louisville
if Kentucky only wins one game the entire season, you better believe this is the game circled for both the players and the fans.
One of the, if not the, most bitter rivalry in college basketball should be one of the marquee games this season. The past two national champions will face off in Rupp Arena this season and are expected to draw the attention of fans all throughout the country.
Louisville returns players like Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell and Russ Smith for another run at a national title. As with any rivalry game, this will a physical battle that will test Kentucky's depth early in the season. Couple the physicality with Louisville's uptempo style, and the Wildcats will be sure to send out numerous players in this December game.
The key for Kentucky in this game will be to take care of the ball, and it will be one of the first times all season they will face a true full-court press like the Cardinals employ.
Jan. 18: vs. Tennessee
This is the first time in a handful of years that Tennessee is expected to make a push at the national level. With the return of Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes, the Volunteers have an inside-outside duo that can compete with anyone in the country.
Thanks to the new SEC schedule that came into play last season with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, Kentucky will only play Tennessee once this season. Due to the scheduling, it is vital for the Wildcats to win this game in case there are any tiebreakers to determine SEC standings.
Kentucky will need to slow the duo of McRae and Stokes if they want to win this game, and it will be a good challenge for James Young and the trio of big men the Wildcats have. Young will most likely be Kentucky's best wing defender this year and is long enough to bother McRae as he shoots.
Calipari will call on his three-headed monster at center in Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson to attack Stokes.
March 8: at Florida
The last game of the season could have a lot of meaning for both Kentucky and Florida.
A regular-season conference championship could go to the winner of the game. Perhaps a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament might be at stake. Kentucky could also be trying to keep an undefeated season alive.
Whatever the reason might be, these two teams don't like each other and are expected to be the class of the SEC.
There will be a battle of freshmen All-Americans with Marcus Lee, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, James Young, Chris Walker and Kasey Hill. Throw in support players such as Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Michael Frazier II and Patric Young and you have the potential for a classic game to close out the 2013-14 regular season.