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Mark Story: Will Kentucky-Gonzaga be the 'most-anticipated' game of the Calipari-coaching era?

Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Basketball

The announcement by John Calipari and Mark Few on Tuesday night that Kentucky will face Gonzaga in men’s basketball in 2022-23 should leave hoops fans filled with the giddy anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve.

The Nov. 20 meeting in the Spokane Arena will be only the second men’s basketball matchup ever between the Wildcats and the Zags. It will also likely be the most-hyped non-conference game in college hoops in the coming season.

In the big picture, will it end up being considered the most-anticipated UK game of the Calipari coaching era (since 2009-10)? Bear with me, I will give you a top five of such games.

As a matchup, Cats vs. Zags will supply ample fuel for what will be a run-away hype train:

— A likely meeting of top-five teams. CBSSports.com college hoops writer Gary Parrish has Gonzaga No. 1 and Kentucky No. 4 in his Top 25 and 1 rankings. ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello has the Zags No. 2 and the Cats No. 4 in the Way-Too-Early Top 25. SI.com’s Kevin Sweeney also has Gonzaga at No. 2 and Kentucky at No. 4.

— Blue blood vs. new blood. As college hoops aristocracy goes, the blood doesn’t get much bluer than Kentucky. The Wildcats are No. 2 (behind Kansas) in all-time wins (2,357 to 2,353); No. 2 (behind North Carolina) in all-time NCAA Tournament victories (131 to 129); and No. 2 (behind UCLA) in NCAA titles (11 to 8).

 

Meanwhile, Gonzaga, even without winning an NCAA championship yet, has arguably been the top program in the country over the past half-decade. Few has coached the Zags to at least the round of 16 in every NCAA tourney since 2015 and to the NCAA Finals in 2017 and 2021. Only Villanova (20) has more NCAA Tournament victories than Gonzaga (19) since 2016.

— Elite big men. Kentucky-Gonzaga will feature a low-post showdown of fourth-year college stars that is straight out of college basketball’s old school.

UK’s 6-foot-9, 255-pound Oscar Tshiebwe (17. 4 points, 15.2 rebounds in 2021-22) is the reigning National Player of the Year. Gonzaga’s 6-10, 235-pound Drew Timme (18.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is a two-time All-America choice.

Because not even good things in 2022 can come without controversy, the announcement of Kentucky playing Gonzaga ginned up contention when Calipari took to Twitter on Wednesday to state that the Cats and Zags would play in Spokane Arena, a municipal facility, rather than in Gonzaga’s on-campus McCarthey Athletic Center.

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