It could be argued that divine intervention led to Kentucky playing Bellarmine this coming season.
Bellarmine Coach Scott Davenport said he tried to schedule a game against UK. He said this led to a telling exchange with UK Coach John Calipari as they sat side by side at a recruiting event.
“We’ve had fun with it,” Davenport said after Wednesday’s announcement of the game. “And, invariably, it gets to where (Calipari says) we’re going to play you so I can go to Mass and I don’t get triple-teamed at Mass and asked, ‘Why don’t you play Bellarmine?’
“I said, well, Coach, I told those people to do that. He said, you probably did.”
Kidding aside, Davenport gushed about the prospect of playing Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Nov. 29.
“It’s a slam dunk,” he said. “For our players, you’re playing an iconic program in an iconic facility against a Hall of Fame coach.
“And for our university, you can’t put a value on that because it gets you exposure from the best against the best.”
Bellarmine, which is a Catholic university in Louisville, will play eye-catching opponent after eye-catching opponent according to the non-conference schedule it announced Wednesday. The Knights open the season at Louisville on Nov. 9. Later in the month, Bellarmine plays at Clemson on Nov. 18, at Duke on Nov. 21, at Loyola Marymount on Nov. 25 and at UCLA on Nov. 27 before the game at Kentucky.
Its non-conference schedule also includes a Dec. 17 game against Miami (Ohio) in Freedom Hall, at Evansville on Dec. 21 and against Murray State in Freedom Hall on a date to be determined.
“Scheduling is a huge component of putting our players, university and the greatest college basketball community in the country first,” Davenport said in a news release. “This schedule is the result of Coach Beau Braden’s efforts and tremendous relationships and respect our program has earned year after year.”
Bellarmine became a Division I program in the 2020-21 season. In its two DI seasons, the Knights have played several high-profile opponents.
In 2020-21, Bellarmine played games at Duke and at Notre Dame.
This past season, Bellarmine played at Purdue, at Murray State, at Gonzaga and at West Virginia. The Knight also played UCLA at Las Vegas.
Stats savant Ken Pomeroy rated Bellarmine’s non-conference schedule last season as the fourth toughest in Division I. Kentucky had the 242nd-toughest non-conference schedule.
Pomeroy had Bellarmine at No. 200 in his final rankings for the 2021-22 season. Kentucky was No. 6.
For comparison sake, Saint Peter’s — the 15-seed that beat UK in a first-round game of the NCAA Tournament — was No. 102.
The final rankings in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) had Kentucky at No. 9, Saint Peter’s at No. 105 and Bellarmine at No 197.
The challenging schedules are no accident.
“You hear the word ‘culture’ now in a lot of sports,” Davenport said. “I prefer the word ‘program’ because ‘program’ means you have a plan.”
The schedule “helps everyone: players, recruiting, the university, its recruiting,” I added. “And I think it’s great for college basketball.”