Photo by Brigham Berthold
The UVU men’s basketball team will open the 2017-18 season with road games at Kentucky and Duke in what is being called the “toughest 24 hours in college basketball history,” the university announced June 8.
The Wolverines will travel to Lexington, Ky. to face the Wildcats Nov. 10 in Rupp Arena and then travel to Durham, N.C. where they will play Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium Nov. 11.
Kentucky is currently ranked sixth in CBS’s preseason rankings and Duke holds the next spot at seventh. The two teams are not only expected to be Final-Four contenders next season, but have perennially dominant programs with 13 national championships between them.
Mark Pope, UVU head coach, graduated from Kentucky in 1996 with an English degree and was a member of the Academic All-SEC team. He also helped the Wildcats reach an NCAA Elite Eight appearance in 1995 and win a national title the next season under head coach Rick Pitino.
It will be a homecoming for UVU assistant coach Chris Burgess as well, as he played two seasons at Duke from 1997-99 under coach Mike Krzyzewski. He appeared in the Elite Eight in 1998 and the national title game in the next season.
Pope tweeted June 2, “Can’t say who yet — but just signed a couple BIG TIME games for 2017-18. Fasten your seat belts Wolverines. It’s ON!”
Last season, the Wolverines lost to Gonzaga, who made it to the national title game. The team also nearly came away with wins at Washington State and Utah and beat BYU in Provo. The BYU win led to national exposure, including a spot on ESPN’s SportsCenter. When the Duke and Kentucky games were announced, SportsCenter anchor Kevin Connors again featured the team on a segment called “Kevin’s Star.” Pope has been clear on his goal to strengthen the basketball program, so the big-name opening games are a no-lose situation for the Wolverines come March when the selection committee reviews the team’s strength of schedule.
“We couldn’t be more excited to go out and play two of the best teams in the entire country in a 24-hour period,” Pope told WolverineGreen.com “Our goal is to be the best team we can possibly be at the end of the season. We had great success with that last year and part of doing that is putting together the hardest non-conference schedule we can and we’ve accomplished that.”
Ty Bianucci is a life-long fan of the San Francisco Giants, 49ers and Golden State Warriors who started on the sports beat for The Review, but now contributes investigative stories. He, along with two of his colleagues, were awarded the Sunshine Award in 2018 by the Society of Professional Journalists.