When: November 30, 2014
Where: Rupp Arena; Lexington, KY
Last season the Providence Friars and Kentucky Wildcats met on "neutral" ground at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. I use quotation marks around neutral because if you didn't know any better you would have thought you were in Lexington, Kentucky with the huge presence of Big Blue Nation in the seats, and the fact that the PA announcer and video board graphics were pro-Wildcats. I suppose that should have been expected since it was Kentucky that had the arrangement with the Barclays Center and the Friars were the "team to be named later" in the deal that included rematch in Lexington during the 2014-15 season.
Ed Cooley has been desperately trying to schedule tougher opponents in the non-conference schedule ever since he arrived in Friartown in the spring of 2011 but has had a hard time making headway with getting any high-major opponents to make the trip to the Dunkin Donuts Center. Until then, he will continue to enter into these neutral-road type of arrangements because at least his team can play against NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents to prepare for the grueling Big East Conference season.
The game last year at the Barclays Center was televised on Fox Sports 1 and the Friars hung around with the Kentucky team that would eventually lose in the National Championship game to the Connecticut Huskies. In that game on December 1, 2013, the Friar front line struggled against the length of Kentucky, specifically Willie Cauley-Stein. Bryce Cotton led all scorers with 23 points while Kris Dunn missed the game due to his shoulder injury suffered during an exhibition game that November.
The game this season at Rupp will be on ESPN2 at 2:00 p.m. and will feature a few familiar faces for the Wildcats in the Harrison twins, Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson. Providence returns the same team minus Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts and Lee Goldsbrough. But it's the additions that make this one more interesting. Kentucky has again brought in a star-studded freshman class which has a 247Sports composite ranking of 2nd nationally just barely behind Duke. Calipari has two bigs and two guards in the class with the bigs being Karl Towns and Trey Lyles and the guards being Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. Providence didn't do too bad itself on the recruiting trail in the Class of 2014. Their incoming class of Paschal Chukwu, Jalen Lindsey, Ben Bentil and Kyron Cartwright garnered a 247Sports composite ranking of 21st nationally.
The addition of a healthy Kris Dunn should do wonders for the Friars as his size at the point guard position and defensive ability should help considerably if Kentucky has one of the Harrison's running point. Adding big bodies in Chukwu and Bentil to bang down low and compete with the size that the Wildcats have should help the Friars improve on last season where they were blocked 11 times. Jalen Lindsey has also told me he is looking forward to the trip because he felt like Kentucky didn't show him enough respect during the recruiting process so that could be an interesting little tidbit as the game approaches.
This game has the chance to be one of the more entertaining early season matchups that any team in the Big East will be a part of and should be a good look at both teams who both be looking to build on last season's successes and blend the veteran players with the freshmen as they take the turn to December before heading into conference play.