Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The nation's No. 1 team will open up the 2013-14 season at home on Friday night, as the Kentucky Wildcats take on the UNC Asheville Bulldogs at Rupp Arena.
UNC Asheville experienced a modest campaign last season in the Big South Conference, finishing 10-6 in league play and 16-16 overall, although its run came to a premature end in the conference tournament after it was upset by last-place Longwood in the first round, 87-72. The Bulldogs had previously qualified for the NCAA Tournament under head coach Eddie Biedenbach in 2011 and 2012.
To call the Wildcats' 2012-13 season a disappointment would be putting things mildly. A year after winning the national championship, UK went just 21-12 and missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time in John Calipari's tenure, and for just the second time since 1992. Last season is long gone, however, and the squad is out to prove that it was the exception rather than the rule. Thanks to a few key returnees and an outstanding recruiting class, UK is ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll for the first time since 1995-96.
Kentucky has beaten UNC Asheville on all three previous occasions, most recently dominating a November 2009 matchup, 94-57.
UNC Asheville will find it very difficult to duplicate last season's scoring success (71.8 ppg. .450 FG percentage) with the loss of its top two point producers in Jeremy Atkinson (17.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Keith Hornsby (15.0 ppg). Trent Meyer, who led the team in both assists (125) and steals (64), will be asked to step up his scoring production (9.7 ppg), although to do so he'll need improve upon his .359 field goal percentage. Will Weeks (9.0 ppg) and D.J. Cunningham (7.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.0 bpg) will also be asked to take on larger roles. Corey Littlejohn and Andrew Rowsey are both expected to be factors in the backcourt after seeing big minutes in the Bulldogs' exhibition contest versus Brevard College.
Kentucky's incoming crop of first-year players is headlined by Julius Randle, the consensus top forward recruit in the nation after posting insane numbers (32.5 ppg, 22.5 rpg) as a senior at Prestonwood Christian. The loaded class is rounded out by Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee and Daraki Johnson, all of whom were named to the 2013 McDonald's High School All- America Team. Coming back for their sophomore campaigns are Willie Cauley- Stein (8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Alex Poythress (11.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg), who opted to stay in Lexington as opposed to Archie Goodwin (14.1 ppg) and Nerlens Noel (10.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg), who bolted for the NBA.