Now comes the pivotal portion of Kentucky's schedule.
Yes, I said pivotal. Kentucky (9-1) is No. 6 in the AP poll after a convincing 96-73 win over Hofstra in Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon. The Cats did what they're supposed to do, overwhelm an inferior opponent. John Calipari got double-figure scoring from four of his five starters (Malik Monk's 20 points led the way), and the team shot 51 percent.
Good returns. Kentucky's offense has showed up more often than not, and it's been fun to watch the Wildcats' versatility with the ball. It has not been perfect, but Kentucky fans know how some recent teams really struggled with freshmen to get points on the board.
Kentucky's 3-point shooting is still a valid concern. UK was 8 of 23 from beyond the arc, which isn't bad but isn't great. Elsewhere, Kentucky did what it wanted.
Kentucky shot 51.4 percent from the field, marking the sixth time in 10 games the Cats made more than half their shots. pic.twitter.com/7t3f63fHQT— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) December 11, 2016
That's great and all, but now North Carolina awaits. And the Tar Heels -- who aren't a bad 3-point shooting team; they just don't take many -- will provide an intriguing test.
UNC is the first of three humongous non-con games left for UK, and there are no cupcakes or halfway-decent teams from one-bid leagues remaining. All of them will fight for a No. 1 seed. The UNC game is on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic at Las Vegas. Then, on Dec. 21, Kentucky visits hated Louisville. On Jan. 28, Kansas goes to Lexington, which will be a fantastic matchup.
Wonder if we'll get any of Adebayo on the break in Vegas. I think it could happen, because both teams like to run. Here's some of his ability in the open floor vs. Hofstra.
The UNC game sets up a month's worth of legitimate tests. Not every game on Kentucky's schedule is against a probable NCAA team, but games against bubble- or NIT-type teams are on the road.
The next time Kentucky plays a road game against a team ranked outside the current KenPom 50? Jan. 14. A home tilt vs. Auburn.
There will be plenty of challenges and big moments. The UNC game is the first really important game, and after the next four weeks, we'll know if Kentucky is a bona fide top-five team. If it is, it's likely going to be in command for a No. 1 seed in March. We can't say for sure this group will be among the best of the best. They have to prove, though I think they will.