Will Kentucky-Gonzaga be the ‘most anticipated’ matchup of the Calipari Coaches era?

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 kid on Christmas Eve.

The Nov. 20 game at the Spokane Arena will be only the second men’s basketball game in history between the Wildcats and the Zags. It will also likely be the highest-profile non-conference game in college hoops this coming season.

Overall, will it end up being considered the most anticipated British game of the Calipari coaching era (since 2009-10)? Be patient, I’ll give you a top five of these games.

As a match, Cats vs Zags will provide enough fuel for what will be a runaway hype train:

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

Gonzaga coach Mark Few has led the Zags to the NCAA Tournament Round of 16 in every March Madness for the past eight seasons.

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

Meanwhile, Gonzaga, even without yet having won an NCAA championship, has been arguably the best program in the nation over the past half-decade. Little has coached the Zags to at least the Round of 16 in every NCAA Tournament since 2015 and the NCAA Finals in 2017 and 2021. Only Villanova (20) has more NCAA Tournament wins than Gonzaga (19) since 2016.

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

Oscar Tshiebwe, 6-foot-9, 255 pounds (17.4 points, 15.2 rebounds in 2021-22) is the reigning National Player of the Year. Gonzaga’s Drew Timme (6-10, 235 lbs.) (18.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is a two-time All-America pick.

Oscar Tshiebwe and Drew Timme are expected to be two of the nation's top college basketball players for the 2022-23 season.

Oscar Tshiebwe and Drew Timme are expected to be two of the nation’s top college basketball players for the 2022-23 season.

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

Since Gonzaga’s Few agreed to return a game to the Rupp Arena in 2023-24, I think the UK should have played in the Spokane venue the Zags preferred. When North Carolina visited Gonzaga in 2019-20, Roy Williams and the Tar Heels played McCarthey (and lost 94-81).

However, by playing in the Municipal Arena (11,736 seating capacity for basketball) instead of “The Kennel” (6,000), approximately twice as many fans will be able to see the game in person.

Back in the Memphis days, Calipari negotiated a four-year deal to play Gonzaga. The Tigers have won three of four games, including the two games played in Spokane – in the municipal arena. (Calipari only coached Memphis in the first two of those games before leaving for the UK).

So will Kentucky-Gonzaga this season prove to be Britain’s “most anticipated” game of the Calipari era?

First, a caveat: an “early game” is one that gets the blood pumping the second it’s announced on the schedule. Not all major games are eligible.

In our state, Kentucky vs. Louisville in the 2012 Final Four was as memorable as a game can get. As regular season competition went, Tennessee’s No. 1 visiting Kentucky’s No. 5 in 2018-19 was huge.

But neither appear on the list below because, for various reasons, there was no way to anticipate the consequences of either game during the pre-season. .

In my opinion, Kentucky’s five “most anticipated” games since 2009-10 are:

5.) Kentucky vs. Kansas, 2016-17. The SEC/Big 12 Challenge brought the Jayhawks to Rupp Arena for the first time in 12 seasons and the second time in 27 years. That UK and KU were both considered NCAA title contenders added to the buzz.

In the game, Josh Jackson (20 points, 10 rebounds) defeated Kentucky star Malik Monk (18 points), Bam Adebayo (10) and De’Aaron Fox (10) in a 79-73 victory for Rock, Chalk. .

Kansas freshman star Josh Jackson (11) got the better of British frosh stars Bam Adebayo, DeAaron Fox and Malik Monk at the Rupp Arena in 2016-17.

Kansas freshman star Josh Jackson (11) got the better of British frosh stars Bam Adebayo, DeAaron Fox and Malik Monk at the Rupp Arena in 2016-17.

4.) Kentucky vs. Duke in the Champions Classic, 2018-19. The UK had gone 4-0 on a pre-season exhibition tour of the Bahamas and were ranked No. 2 in the country. Duke had a lavishly publicized freshman class led by Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish and was ranked No. 4.

A British crowd of 18,907 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis was stunned when Duke annihilated the Cats, 118-84.

Duke center Marques Bolden (20) celebrated with teammates Zion Williamson (1) and Tre Jones (3) after being fouled on a reverse layup in the first half.  Duke defeated Kentucky 118-84 in the 2018-19 Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Duke center Marques Bolden (20) celebrated with teammates Zion Williamson (1) and Tre Jones (3) after being fouled on a reverse layup in the first half. Duke defeated Kentucky 118-84 in the 2018-19 Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

3.) Kentucky vs. Louisville, 2009-10. The build-up to the first UK-U of L encounter which pitted Calipari against longtime foe and ex-UK chief Rick Pitino was so heated there was almost a fight in the first minute of the match. The game, back and forth, in what became a 71-62 British victory had a bad advantage.

Louisville's Jared Swopshire, center, and Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins ​​were both charged with technical fouls before a point was scored in the first half of the United Kingdom's 71-62 victory over the U of L at Rupp Arena in 2009-10 in what was the first Wildcats-Cardinals meeting with John Calipari and Rick Pitino as opposing coaches.

Louisville’s Jared Swopshire, center, and Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins ​​were both charged with technical fouls before a point was scored in the first half of the United Kingdom’s 71-62 victory over the U of L at Rupp Arena in 2009-10 in what was the first Wildcats-Cardinals meeting with John Calipari and Rick Pitino as opposing coaches.

2.) Kentucky vs. Gonzaga, 2022-23. It should be a boffo show.

1.) Kentucky vs. North Carolina, 2011-12. The game was widely seen as featuring the two most talented teams in the nation and the two teams most likely to win the NCAA title. It was a rematch of the previous season’s Elite Eight meeting which sent the UK to the Final Four.

Of the 186 shots blocked by Anthony Davis (23) in his only season (2011-12) at Kentucky, the most famous is this blocking of North Carolina forward John Henson's last-second shot attempt. which preserved the United Kingdom's 73-72 victory over UNC.  in the Rupp Arena.

Of the 186 shots blocked by Anthony Davis (23) in his only season (2011-12) at Kentucky, the most famous is this blocking of North Carolina forward John Henson’s last-second shot attempt. which preserved the United Kingdom’s 73-72 victory over UNC. in the Rupp Arena.

The contest also lived up to its pre-game hype, as Kentucky prevailed 73-72 after Anthony Davis blocked John Henson’s bid for a game-winning 12-foot jumper in the last seconds.

We can only hope that Kentucky vs. Gonzaga in 2022-23 will turn out such a great game.

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