To say last season was a disappointment for Kentucky, would be quite an understatement, as last season was by far Kentucky’s worst season under head coach John Calipari. While last season was a complete failure, this year’s team will be one where the Wildcats will not only rebound but have a chance to deliver Calipari his second National Championship. As usual, the Wildcats brought in a good recruiting class, headlined by TyTy Washington and Damion Collins, but Coach Cal focused heavily on the transfer portal where they added depth in the frontcourt, on the wing, and at the point guard spots to help give this team a nice mixture of experience and talent. The real question comes to whether or not this team can win six games in March, as this is one of the frontrunners for the title.
What was lacking from last year’s team was both shooting and guard play, so John Calipari decided to add in a brand new backcourt of Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington. Wheeler led the SEC in assists a season ago and will hope to bring in a change of pace to this Wildcats roster. Wheeler’s ability to get out and run will lead to transition opportunities, and while he’ll take a dip in overall production statistically, he still will have an effective role as a lead guard but this time on a good basketball team. Washington can also run the point, although he most likely will play off the ball to start this season. Washington is a high-end shooter, scorer, who excels at getting points off of back cuts and working to find an open area. His scoring ability will be on full display early on as he hopes to carve out a big role in what should be his only season at Kentucky.
With shooting being a major concern, adding in shooters like Kellan Grady and CJ Fredrick, who will play off the ball and provide some high-level production, is a big thing for this roster. Grady is more of a pure scorer, which makes him the clear choice to start at the three for this team. Grady is a 6’5 wing that is best known for his shooting but can score off the dribble and create his own shot. Grady also is a decent defender, a good rebounder, and is someone that can realistically play 2-4 for this team. Fredrick will be a reserve piece for this team, the 6’3 guard is one of the best shooters in the sport, while he’s not much more than that, having that skill set will help Kentucky should they get in a rut or something like that.
The Wildcats now will have an elite frontcourt with Oscar Tshiebwe and Damion Collins, who will both be battling for starter’s minutes. Tshiebwe transferred early last season after getting beat out by Derek Culver, but fear not, he is a really good piece for this team. Tshiebwe was a great rebounder and shot-blocker for the 2020 West Virginia team that had one of the top defenses in the sport that season, while he’s an effective inside scorer as well. Collins will bring in high-level athleticism at the center spot, which will at some point translate into success. While Tshiebwe is the better option right now to start, Collins should develop as a scorer and defender with time on the court, which maybe makes him better long-term.
While adding a bunch of players is what makes this Kentucky team one to look out for this season, there are still quite a few role players that should have an impact this season. Davion Mintz led the team in scoring last season, and while he probably comes off the bench, he will also provide some scoring and playmaking ability at the guard spot. Keion Brooks will play major minutes as a small-ball four this season, while he’s not a great shooter, he should make up for it by being a good switchable defender, and rebounder. Bryce Hopkins is a freshman that also should play a role with this team as he is a good athlete. Jacob Toppin and Dontaie Allen will compete for minutes but with so many new additions, they may have been better suited transferring elsewhere, as opposed to staying at Kentucky where they will struggle for double-digit minutes per game.
This Kentucky roster might have the perfect blend of experience, talent, and shooting to help lead this team back up to the Kentucky standard. The backcourt play will be much improved from a season ago and while I do believe that Wheeler can get a little turnover-prone, having Washington and Mintz there alongside him will have at least other options, and make him play more within himself. The wings are also very good for this team, with Grady, Washington, and Brooks all able to provide some athleticism, switchability, and shooting the defense projects to be one of the top defenses in the SEC. Add to that a frontcourt that will either out-size or out-athlete teams by putting Tshiebwe and Collins out there for 40 minutes, and this team will compete at every position. The only area where you might be able to knock this team would be by stating that this team doesn’t have a “superstar” player. That said, I trust that this team has enough scoring to win the SEC by a game or two, and have a chance to be the last team standing when the Tournament ends.
PG: Sahvir Wheeler
SG: TyTy Washington
SF: Kellan Grady
PF: Keion Brooks
C: Oscar Tshiebwe
B1: Davion Mintz
B2: Damion Collins
B3: CJ Fredrick
B4: Bryce Hopkins
B5: Jacob Toppin