Huge roster turnover is nothing new at Kentucky, but this year’s group of Wildcats is the least experienced ever and yet still a national title favorite on the NCAA basketball odds.
It was just a little more than 25 years ago that Steve Fisher put five University of Michigan freshmen on a college basketball court at one time, forever changing the sport. While starting five freshmen doesn’t happen all that often, building teams – and winning championships – around first- and second-year players has practically become the norm for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats.
The King of One & Dones is at it again this season when there will be a quintet of frosh on the hardwood much of the time. We’re used to seeing this at UK, and the numbers suggest the ‘Cats will once again be a force in the quest for the NCAA Championship. BetOnline is selling Kentucky at 10/1, a respectable price for Calipari’s youngest and least experienced group yet.88% Of Last Year’s Minutes Must Be Replaced
Seeing the Wildcats lose several players to the NBA from one season to the next is expected; seeing them lose their top 7 scorers from the previous season and returning only one player who averaged 10+ minutes in Calipari’s rotation is another thing. The three biggest names to exit after just one season were Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo, all of them taken in the first 14 picks of the NBA Draft this past June.
With that trio and others, Kentucky made it to the Elite 8 before falling to eventual champion North Carolina. Last year’s crew came out of the gate strong, winning 10 of their first 11 and covering the NCAA basketball odds 11 times in the initial 15 contests. Under normal conditions, this would be projected to be a down season or rebuilding year for a team, but Calipari and UK are not normal. The Wildcats are ranked No. 5/4 in the preseason polls, and the favorite to win fourth consecutive SEC titles in both the regular season and conference tourney.
Once again, we should see a team that plays solid hoops in every phase. Nick Richards, all 6-11 of him, is the beast down low with more defense expected from the young Jamaican than offense. Quade Green and Hamidou Diallo team up in the backcourt, Green directing the offense and Diallo providing mismatches on the wing. It’s forward Kevin Knox, a 6-9 freshman out of Tampa, who could be the best of them all, a versatile forward who provides defense as well as transition offense. Two sophs expected to step up and add punch to the attack are Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Winyard.
Improved & Deeper SEC Will Challenge UK
How quickly Coach Cal can get this bunch to bond and play together remains to be seen. A huge early test comes in the third game when the Wildcats take on Kansas, a 12/1 play on the NCAA basketball futures, at Chicago’s United Center. Kentucky also has a 3-game stretch in December against Virginia Tech, UCLA and Louisville that precedes the start of the conference slate.
SEC games promise to be tougher than previous seasons with Florida, Texas A&M, Alabama and Missouri all presenting challenges to Kentucky’s league dominance. You can bet your bottom dollar SBR will have free college basketball picks for those games and more.