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Who schedules correctly? Careful Cal or bring ‘em on Alabama coach?

·7 min read

The 2021-22 season includes a striking contrast in scheduling philosophy.

In its non-conference schedule, Alabama is playing three teams that advanced to the 2021 Final Four: at home against Houston (Dec. 11) and Baylor (Jan. 29) and at Gonzaga (Dec. 4).

“It might have been a little too much right off, to be honest with you,” Alabama Coach Nate Oats said on a recent teleconference. “But, look, one thing I’ll say, we’re never going to schedule light. I would rather get exposed in the non-conference, figure out what we’ve got to fix. You look at last year. We were 4-3 after seven games, and ended up going 16-2 in SEC play.”

In addition to the Final Four trio, the Tide also plays at Memphis (Dec. 14) and possibly Kansas if both teams advance to the finals of the ESPN Events Invitational.

“You need a wake-up call at some point,” Oats said. “It’s better to get the wake-up call in the non-conference than to get it in the SEC play.”

Meanwhile, at a recent appearance at the Lexington Rotary Club, Kentucky Coach John Calipari again lamented the difficulty of his team’s schedule last season.

“Last year, I made a mistake, and I knew it from Day One,” he told the Rotarians.

UK’s struggles as reflected by a 9-16 record last season impacted the approach to this season’s schedule.

“We’re playing all games we can win,” said Calipari, presumably meaning a cupcake home schedule, “and figure out who we are.”

Whose approach to scheduling is correct? Oats? Play challenging opponents in order to expose — and go about addressing — flaws? Or Calipari? Play a manageable schedule in order to build cohesion and confidence.

“There’s no right way to do it,” Jay Bilas said. The ESPN college basketball analyst called scheduling “an art form.”

Former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson suggested both Oats and Calipari could be correct.

If Alabama is on the “bubble” on Selection Sunday, the challenging schedule could bolster its case for an NCAA Tournament bid, he said.

When the Southeastern Conference made elevating its basketball profile a priority several years ago, one stated objective was to enhance schedules in order to get more teams in the NCAA Tournament.

“A lot of people weren’t playing anybody,” said Mike Tranghese, who was hired as a basketball consultant to help boost SEC basketball’s profile. Coaches saw no benefit of playing challenging opponents, he said, and were afraid losses could damage job security.

Then there’s Kentucky.

“In Kentucky’s case, they’re trying to put a team together. …,” Sanderson said. “ It’s a little different in trying to see your team, you’ve got your team there, then it is to build your team. And you’re building your team at Kentucky.”

UK’s home non-conference schedule this season isn’t much different than Duke or North Carolina or for Kansas.

Calipari acknowledged the annual grumbling by some UK fans about the scarcity of marquee opponents in home games.

“People want us to play every good team,” he said. “We’re building a new team every year. … It takes time.”

Bring ‘em on

When it came to challenging opponents, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said he believed in the more the merrier. That’s one reason he welcomes the addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC in the near future.

“Every night, it’s going to be a ballgame,” Richardson said. “Yes! That’s what I think teams should be getting ready for. … I could see one or two games (against inferior opponents). But that’s it. In fact, if you want to go that route, I’d play two exhibition games and then right into the league schedule.”

When asked if other coaches shared that view, Richardson said, “I’m not in the box with the rest. … Let’s play. I never backed down. … I’d be the happiest guy in the world if I was coaching and Texas is back in. And I’m talking (about) two games. Everybody (would) play each other twice. Then, you don’t have any practice games.

Fewer cupcakes?

A self-proclaimed “scheduling buff,” former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson said that fan attendance can affect home schedules. Kentucky’s assurance that home games will be well-attended makes it easier for John Calipari to schedule so-called cupcake opponents. Nate Oats may have a greater need for higher profile opponents to boost attendance.

“I don’t care who (Kentucky) plays, they’re there to see you play,” he said. “I think Cal is right. And I think to some degree Nate Oats is right.”

Jay Bilas wondered if fans — even UK fans — are becoming more particular in their sporting interest.

“You’ll see fewer of those (cupcake opponents) in the future,” the ESPN analyst said. “Because this has become such a huge business. And I can speak for myself, and I’m sure a lot of fans, in that they’re not interested in seeing ‘Big Shot’ versus ‘Little Directional School’ like they used to.

“The public used to consume that product. They don’t anymore. They want to see heavyweight play heavyweight.”

‘Win, too’

During the telecast of UK’s Pro Day, Kellan Grady offered several reasons why he chose to transfer from Davidson to UK. Kentucky fans who concentrate on the here and now will want to presume that he did not list the reasons in order of importance.

“I thought Kentucky would give me the greatest chance to expand my game, and the best competition every day,” he said. “And play on a big stage. And just learning how to play with great players. I think that’s one of the biggest things for guys moving on to the next level.”

Grady then noted that UK Coach John Calipari “had a history of success at making players better.

“And,” he then added, “I wanted to win, too.”

Clinic moved

The John Calipari Women’s Clinic has been moved from Rupp Arena to Memorial Coliseum. The clinic will be Oct. 24 from 3 to 6 p.m. The cost ranges from $99 to $150.

Registration will be from 1:30 to 3 p.m. that day at the Rose Street entrance.

Registration can be made online at

Ex-Cats debut

Former UK player Sacha Killeya-Jones made his long anticipated debut in a professional league in Israel last Sunday. He scored 19 points (7-for-8 from the field), grabbed five rebounds and had two assists for Hapoel Gilboa Galil. His team lost to Hapoel Beer Sheva 83-69.

Another former UK player, James Young, is also playing in Israel. He had 12 points and nine rebounds for Hapoel Tel Aviv in a 79-76 loss to Bnei Herzliya on Monday.

Thanks to Josh Halickman (aka The Sports Rabbi) for the updates.


To the family and friends of Dick Fenlon. The longtime sportswriter for the Louisville Times and later the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch died last Sunday. He was 91.

His colleague in the Louisville days, Dave Kindred, posted on Facebook a story that has been retold countless times in Kentucky sportswriting circles.

It was the early 1970s.

“Dick called Adolph Rupp at home, the cranky old coach then in his final years as one of basketball’s formative figures,” Kindred wrote. “We could always reach him, his number in the Lexington phone book, Adolph F. Rupp, Eastover Drive …

“‘Coach, this is Dick Fenlon in Louisville. Can we talk some?’

“‘Fenlon, Fenlon?’” Rupp said. “‘I know two guys in Louisville. One’s Fenlon. One’s Kindred. One’s a good guy. The other one’s a sumbitch! Which one are you?’”

With no need to spell out Fenlon’s response, Kindred concluded, “then they talked.”

Happy birthday

To Matt Scherbenske. He turned 34 on Thursday. … To Todd Ziegler. He turned 56 on Saturday. … To Sue Bird. She turned 41 on Saturday. … To Tony Cooper. He turns 50 on Sunday (today). … To Kyle Wiltjer. He turns 29 on Wednesday.

More Kentucky basketball recruiting links: Will Shaedon Sharpe enroll early at UK?

Kentucky star Reed Sheppard makes another big move in basketball recruiting rankings

More Kentucky basketball recruiting links: Duke’s shot at No. 1 class takes a big hit

‘I’m skipping and I’m whistling.’ Observations from Kentucky basketball’s Pro Day.

Kentucky basketball’s new coaches set to make more than those who departed

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