Savvy scheduling for this season’s Cats
BY KENNY COLSTON
PHOTOS BY WALTER CORNETT
To put it bluntly, the words non-traditional and Kentucky basketball don’t mix. How could they? The program with the most wins in college basketball, with the second most titles and currently ranked as the top team in the land doesn’t qualify as non-traditional.
Except, of course, when they redefine college basketball, as they have over the last six years. One-and-done players (ahem, succeed and proceed-ers), consistent top ranked recruiting classes, yes, platoons, all seem out of place in college basketball, except in Lexington.
But this isn’t about any of those things. They’ve been written about.
Moreso than anything else this basketball season has been another non-traditional twist in UK’s back pocket.
Normally Friday nights are for high school basketball and football, with the occasional NBA game sprinkled in, until March Madness. Sundays are for church, whether you sit in the pews or in stadium seats of the NFL.
Unless you’re Kentucky basketball.
Since its exhibition games at the start of November, the Cats have spent most of their non-conference schedule infringing on the designated time slots of others, playing on Sunday afternoons and Friday nights, instead of the traditional Saturday and Tuesday spots reserved for the best in basketball.
While those changes are important, a bigger change is how frequently Kentucky is playing on Friday and Sundays. Instead of a Sunday game here, then another game on a more traditional Tuesday or Wednesday, the Cats have almost exclusively played their non-conference schedule in a very March Madness-like format.
Game on Friday night, rest day, another game on Sunday afternoon, rinse, recycle and repeat. Two games, three days with little preparation for the second opponent. Sound like March? It was actually Kentucky’s November and December.
Take a look, starting with the season opener, Grand Canyon. That game was played on a Friday night, airing on the SEC Network on Nov. 14. Two days later, Buffalo came to town, on a Sunday afternoon game played on ESPN U.
Five days later, UK was at it again against Boston, Friday night, Nov. 21. Montana State came to Rupp two days after Boston, for another Sunday matchup on the SEC Network.
After a quick breather from that type of scheduling, UK was back at it against, on a Friday night, against Texas. Two days later, EKU came into Rupp.
That doesn’t even account for the Tuesday games the Cats usually played after dispatching an opponent on the Sunday, creating a few three games in five days runs.
There’s nothing stopping other teams from doing a similar schedule, especially those who aren’t on the whim of TV networks wanting to air every game and having quite a say in when said games will be played.
But for Kentucky, this is new territory, outside of the confines of games on CBS on Saturdays and ESPN on Tuesdays. And not many other top teams are doing it either.
Kentucky’s biggest rival this year, Duke, only plays a similar two-game in three days stretch twice this year and none of a Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday stretch similar to the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin never plays the 2-in-3 stretches, but did play in an early season tournament.
Even rival Louisville only does it twice, and once again not in the typical end of week-weekend game, opting for weekend to Monday or two mid-week games, like Duke.
The only contenders for similar schedules to Kentucky are two West Coast contenders, Arizona and Gonzaga. Those other Wildcats (Arizona) play half their conference schedule on a Friday-Sunday schedule, but not every one of the third-ranked Arizona’s games are on national TV. Gonzaga prefers to schedule that way in the non-conference, although without the stress of TV coverage.
DeWayne Peevy, deputy director of athletics for UK, said attendance is the driving factor for such scheduling, although he guesses Coach John Calipari doesn’t complain much about it being ideal prep for March Madness either.
“I don’t (schedule) much with the tournament feel in mind,” Peevy, who’s in charge of scheduling for the basketball team, said. “But I’m guessing the coaches approve because they are probably more comfortable with that tournament set-up.”
Peevy said fans can expect more Friday games, especially in November, because UK is trying to keep basketball off Saturdays early in the season to respect the football team. Attendance is also higher on Friday night home games in November and December, Peevy said, than midweek games.
“Fridays have always been the best night for families to attend,” Peevy said.
TV considerations also aren’t as big a factor, although with some tough Sunday nights, like a noon tipoff this season, Peevy said he’s talking more with the SEC Network and ESPN when scheduling Sunday games for next season.
Another reason for the Friday-Sunday scheduling is doing so keeps players from missing class and tutoring early in the season, like midweek games do, he said.
Better for academics, better for the growing football program and better for attendance means more of Kentucky basketball taking up Fridays and Sundays in the future, Peevy said.
“Looking at attendance on Sundays this year, they look better than the midweek games,” he said.
Even better for Kentucky’s NCAA tournament prep.
UK plays U of L at KFC Yum on Saturday December 27, 2014 at 2 pm. ESPN2 is scheduled to air the game.
This article also appears on page 4 of the January 2015 print edition of Ace.
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PHOTOS BY WALTER CORNETT FOR ACEWEEKLY. Galleries below: