Coach Calipari said the 2016 recruiting class was “probably the best ever”. That should be enough to explain the kind of team Kentucky will have, because their roster is unparalleled when it comes to talent and athleticism, as usual. Freshmen De’Aron Fox and Malik Monk are strong candidates for best backcourt duo of the season and 6-10 Bam Adebayo will be a strong presence in the paint. Wenyen Gabriel (6-9) is another player to keep an eye on, although he is flying under the radar right now. He will get everyone’s attention pretty soon. That’s without considering returning PG Isaiah Briscoe and senior Derek Willis are still around. They are 4th in our ranking because, as talented as they are, it is always hard to get so many freshmen to play at a high level from the start, and that will show when they will be in the tournament.
The last tournament is a clear example of what it means relying on so many freshmen: the Wildcats lost against Indiana (who was then defeated by UNC in the next game) despite out-shooting and out-rebounding the opposing team. Those extra shots and rebounds are a proof of inefficiency on offense, and Kentucky also had 16 turnovers (as opposed to an average of 8 per game) and fouled more than usual. Still, Kentucky was a team with Final Four potential.
The coach: John Calipari
Calipari might be considered the 31st Nba coach. His offense is made of basic principles, tons of pick-and-rolls, shooting from the corners, 1vs1 and running in transition. He has been for years the best coach at recruiting young prospects, he already was when he was coaching in other colleges, and the Kentucky brand simply boosted his skills. His “sale pitch” is that he’ll get them to the Nba, and considering the amount of players he got there, his pitch is quite strong.
Key player: Isaiah Briscoe (PG, So)
In every team coach Cal has ever coached, the most important players are those who stayed and ended up leading the locker room to ease the newcomers into the system. This season it will be sophomore Isaiah Briscoe who will take on this role (and not senior Willis) who said many times during preseason he wants to take on the challenge and showed his leadership skills from the very first practice. Briscoe will also be the starting PG of the team and will have the ball in his hands when it matters, but he will have to be consistent with his outside shooting.
Prospetti: De’Aaron Fox (G, Fr), Sacha Killeya-Jones (SF/PF, Fr), Bam Adebayo (PF/C, Fr), Malik Monk (G, Fr), Wenyen Gabriel (SF/PF, Fr)
All of the prospects have been already named, but Briscoe (if his season will be positive) and center Isaac Humphries (coming back from injury) have their chances to make it to the Nba. The absurd part of Kentucky roster is that a player like Sacha Killeya-Jones, who would be starting in any other team and would be the star to keep an eye on, is a no one (or at least, no one special) in the Wildcats locker room. He is a 6-10 PF whose biggest issue is being a bit too soft. He chose UK to challenge himself, if he had to prove that label is wrong, he will be a first round pick.
Likely starting five
PG – Isaiah Briscoe (So)
G – Malik Monk (Fr)
G – De’Aaron Fox (Fr)
PF – Derek Willis (Sr)
PF/C – Bam Adebayo (Fr)
Relevant players from the past
This would be a long list, starting with young Nba players like Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins andJohn Wall, going to veterans like Rajon Rondo and Tayshaun Prince and ex players like Antoine Walker or Dan Issel. Way too many, but it’s worth remembering that back in the days Pat Riley was a Wildcat as well.