On Thursday afternoon, we got to see the finalized non-conference schedule for the men’s basketball team for the 2018-19 season. To go along with an always daunting ACC schedule, you will see some big names like Tennessee, Marquette or Kansas, Michigan State, Indiana, and Kentucky. Combine that with the excitement of having Chris Mack on the sidelines, and we have ourselves a pretty compelling season coming up. Let’s take a little deeper look into who the Cards will play before the ACC portion of the schedule tips off.
November 8 – Nicholls State (Home)
The Colonels went 21-11 last season, losing to Stephen F. Austin (28-7) in the Southland Conference Tournament semi-finals. They had three players average double-figure scoring last season, and all three are now graduated. Their fourth leading scorer at 9.9 points per game, also gone. They will also be breaking in a new head coach, Austin Claunch, who has been an assistant there for the last few years. He is just 28 years old.
November 13 – Southern (Home – NIT Season Tip-Off)
Southern went 15-18 last season and finished 5th in the SWAC. They did go into Duke early in the season and only lose by 17, so they have that going for them. Eddie Reese returns for his senior season after being second on the team last year at 11.1 points per game. They will also have a new head coach, Sean Woods. Woods played for Kentucky from 1988-92 as part of the “Unforgettables.”
November 16 – Vermont (Home – NIT Season Tip-Off)
Vermont went 27-8 last season and made it to the NIT, where they lost in the first round. They opened their season with a 73-69 loss at Kentucky. They lose three of their top four leading scorers to graduation, but return Antony Lamb, who was second on the team at 14.3 points per game. The other key returner is Ernie Duncan, a redshirt senior from Evansville, who averaged 10.8 points per game.
November 21 – Tennessee (Brooklyn – NIT Season Tip-Off)
This begins the non-conference gauntlet for the Cards. This will be the first game of the evening at the Barclays Center in the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament. The winner will play the winner of Kansas/Marquette. The losing teams will also square off, giving all four teams a very good two games to play. Tennessee went 26-9 last season and won the SEC regular season and SEC Tournament championships. They return all five starters from that squad. Grant Williams averaged 15.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game as the SEC Player of the Year.
November 23 – Kansas or Marquette (Brooklyn – NIT Season Tip-Off)
As previously stated, the winners of these two games will face off against each other, as well as the losing teams. Kansas was 31-8 last season and was a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Marquette returns four starters from a team that went 21-14 and made it to the quarterfinals of the NIT. Regardless of who plays who, someone will be putting a nice non-conference win on their NCAA Tournament resume.
November 27 – Michigan State (Home – ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
The Spartans went 30-5 last season and were a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They lost in the second round to 11 seed Syracuse. Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. are both in the NBA, so that’s good. 6’8 junior Nick Ward returns to lead the team. As a freshman, he averaged 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He followed that up with 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season. Cassius Winston (12.6 points, 6.9 assists) and Joshua Langford (11.7 points) also return. There is no reason to think that this won’t be an exciting game at the big Yum!
December 1 – Seton Hall (Road)
The Pirates went 22-12 last season, earning a #8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They knocked out NC State in the first round and then bowed out to #1 seed Kansas 83-79 in the second round. They also came to the KFC Yum! Center and handed the Cards a 79-77 loss. They finished 3rd in the Big East, behind Xavier and Villanova. Four of the top five scorers from last season are gone. Myles Powell returns and averaged 15.5 points as a sophomore last season. Kevin Willard begins his 9th season as head coach at Seton Hall.
Time for a quick break to catch our breath as the Cards have just played Tennessee, Kansas or Marquette, Michigan State, and on the road at Seton Hall…Ok back at it.
December 5 – Central Arkansas (Home)
The Bears went 18-17 last season and made it to the second round of the CBI. They finished 7th in the Southland Conference and lost to Nicholls State twice during the season. At 5’11, Jordan Howard averaged 25.1 points per game. Good news, he is gone. Their second leading scorer is also gone, making Thatch Unruh their top returner. He averaged 8.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game last season.
December 8 – Indiana (Road)
Indiana went 16-15 last season in Archie Miller’s first season as head coach. The story here will be Romeo Langford. How much better will he make the Hoosiers? Will he be taking over games on his own already? Will he still be finding his groove in college basketball at this point? However, Juwan Morgan will also be back. The senior did average 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season. Against Louisville, he had 17 points and 9 rebounds as the Cards got the 71-62 win.
December 12 – Lipscomb (Home)
The Bisons went 23-10 last season and did make the NCAA Tournament as a 15 seed. They lost to UNC 84-66 in the first round. They return their top six players from last season, who are all juniors and seniors now. Garrison Matthews averaged 21.7 points per game last season. He, along with Rob Marberry (15.9 points, 5.8 rebounds) and Kenny Cooper (10.1 points, 3.9 assists) will bring their team to the KFC Yum! Center in what could be one of those under-the-radar sneaky games that the Cards better be ready for.
December 15 – Kent State (Home)
They went 17-17 last year and finished in 2nd place in the MAC East division. Chris Mack’s Xavier team beat them 96-70 in the regular season. Leading scorer Jaylin Walker (16.6 points per game) returns to the Golden Flashes.
December 21 – Robert Morris (Home)
This is one that the Cards can not afford to lose. Why? Because making the Robert Morris joke at Kentucky fans is too good to not be able to do it anymore. Of course, we wouldn’t be doing it with the #1 recruiting class. Or in the NIT. But whatever, just don’t lose. They went 16-17 last season and finished 6th in the NEC. Leading scorer Dachon Burke (17.6 points per game) transferred to Nebraska and will be sitting out this season. Sophomore Koby Thomas returns as the leading scorer, who averaged 12.0 points per game as a freshman.
December 29 – Kentucky (Home)
Same ol’ story here. Loads of talent. A new roster to get used to. All-Pac 12 first-teamer Reid Travis has transferred in from Stanford, where he averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season for the Cardinal. PJ Washington and Nick Richards return for the Cats, at least giving them a couple of guys that played significant minutes last year. Newcomers EJ Montomgery, Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson, and Immanuel Quickley are all five-star recruits, while Tyler Herro is a four-star. As I said, same story as always. Plenty of talent.
This schedule is really challenging, and we haven’t even touched on the ACC portion yet. You can’t ask for much more as a fan from an entertainment perspective. With a new head coach, there are sure to be some bumps in the road, but we will know where this team stands pretty early. You have the big names like Michigan State, Tennessee, Kentucky, and possibly Kansas. But then you throw in solid teams like Lipscomb and Vermont that may not move the needle for most fans but are teams that can come into the KFC Yum! Center and win, and you have a heck of a non-conference slate to be excited about.