Dribble Handoff: Kentucky’s most intriguing game of 2022-23 season as John Calipari’s team seeks redemption

Kentucky’s 2021-22 season ended in painful fashion, but the Wildcats aren’t backing down from the challenge of starting their 2022-23 campaign. The UK officially released its schedule for the upcoming season this week, and it’s highlighted by non-conference games against Gonzaga, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State and UCLA, as well as the usual SEC suspects. .

As Kentucky seeks redemption for its first-round loss to Saint Peter’s in the Big Dance, 14th-year coach John Calipari and his team should be under the national microscope as much as ever. By the time the 2023 NCAA Tournament rolls around, it will have been four calendar years since the Wildcats won a game in the big dance.

While the 2020 squad had some potential before the season was canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact remains that it’s been a while by program standards since the Wildcats have enjoyed significant playoff success. Kentucky’s last Final Four was in 2015, and the pressure is on Calipari to recapture the magic of his early years on the job.

For this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our editors picked what they think is the most intriguing game on Kentucky’s schedule this season.

Gonzaga

The obvious answer is the Nov. 20 game against Gonzaga, given that it will be a matchup of the No. 1 (Gonzaga) and No. 4 (Kentucky) ranked teams in the CBS Sports Top 25 and 1 and features two consensus preseason All-Americans in Drew Timme of the Zags and Oscar Tshiebwe of the Wildcats, the latter being the reigning CBS Sports National Player of the Year.

Would the game be better at The Kennel?

Of course it would.

But Calipari refused to play the Zags in their home arena, only agreeing instead to visit off-campus and nothing close to the same Spokane Arena. It’s disappointing for many different reasons – partly because college basketball is always more interesting and fun in real home road environments, and because Calipari’s decision robbed the sport of a moment when one of the biggest and best brands was visiting one. of the smallest and best sites. That’s why I’d stop short of talking about this two-year deal as a home series because the UK isn’t actually visiting Gonzaga’s house. That said, Kentucky vs. Gonzaga anywhere is better than Kentucky vs. Gonzaga nowhere. That’s a fact. So I’m looking forward to that pre-Thanksgiving reunion that should be go-to TV for college basketball fans even though, by and large, it will be eclipsed by a full NFL Sunday. – Gary Parrish

Michigan

I’ve waited a long time for this one. On December 2, the United Kingdom will face Michigan in London at the O2 Arena. (By the way, Marist vs. Maine is the undercard for this Basketball Hall of Fame London Showcase.) This Wildcats-Wolverines game has been postponed the past two seasons due to the pandemic. Fortunately, we finally get it. And not only could/should the game be a tilt between the ranked teams, but it will also give us Tshiebwe vs. Hunter Dickinson. The reigning NPOY is going to have a number of tests against all the American-level greats this season – and Dickinson will be a fun challenge.

These are not just two of Top 15 Sports Professions, they are also historically two of the 15 most successful programs in college basketball history. Still, Kentucky and Michigan have only faced each other six times, according to Basketball Reference. The most recent game was a regional final in 2014, when Aaron Harrison sank a 3-pointer to send the UK to the Final Four. Before that? Kentucky and Michigan last met in the 1993 Final Four. And before that, we would have to go back to the early 1970s.

So it’s great to see two of the biggest attractions in college hoops patiently but diligently make this game happen. Even better: it’s a three-part series. The next two in the coming years will be played where they should be: in the barns of Kentucky and Michigan. –Matt Norlander

state of michigan

Easy choice for me here. Michigan State is the only game on the non-conference roster for the UK that features an active Hall of Fame coach on one side (Calipari) and an active Hall of Fame coach on the other (Tom Izzo) .

Need I say more?

Probably not.

Beyond the tactical brilliance evident on the sidelines, both teams’ lineups this season should be rimmed with talent. Kentucky is pretty well known, of course; Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston were five-star signings, and Antonio Reeves appears to be a hit on the transfer portal. Michigan’s state closet is far from bare, however; despite the loss of its three top scorers, it has a wealth of veterans. Malik Hall, Tyson Walker and Joey Hauser seem to have the experience and intelligence that embody all the hallmarks of good Izzo teams of the past.

As an additional intriguing backdrop that makes this series #1 on my list, Kentucky has won the last two matchups against Sparty. In fact, Izzo hasn’t beaten Calipari since 2013 and is 1-2 against the Wildcats since Cal took over. Izzo may have the bottom talent here, but this is a neutral site game for the Champions Classic, combined with his recent fights against Cal, you know this game is going to be a date. -Kyle Boone

UCLA

Kentucky and UCLA haven’t played since 2017, meaning this will be the first meeting between the teams since Mick Cronin took over as Bruins coach. Cronin and John Calipari have only met once before, when the Wildcats defeated Cronin’s team in Cincinnati in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. This Kentucky team, loaded with future NBA talent, spent No. 1 all season and went undefeated until a Final Four loss to Wisconsin, while Cronin’s Cincinnati team didn’t have a single double-digit scorer or future NBA star.

It will be a fairer fight this time around as the Bruins bring back Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez, who are mainstays of Cronin’s tenure, and bring in a recruiting class that includes three top-50 prospects. In particular, the game between freshman guards Amari Bailey (UCLA) and Cason Wallace (Kentucky) should be of interest to NBA fans and scouts. The Bruins are losing a pair of veteran greats in Cody Riley and Myles Johnson from last season’s squad, and it will be interesting to see how they try to contain Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, who is the reigning National Player of the Year. . –David Cobb

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