#5 Kentucky Basketball: Champions Classic Preview vs #4 Kansas Jayhawks

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Even by Kentucky basketball standards, in the John Calipari era of one and done, this year’s Wildcats team will be very young and overly dependent on freshmen. Currently, this roster has an average age of just 18.9 years.

That’s old enough to legally buy you a pack of smokes, but not by a whole lot. It’s not even remotely close to being old enough to legally you a bottle of Kentucky bourbon. There are only two juniors and no seniors on this roster, as the Wildcats are looking to replace 92.6 percent of their scoring and 76.6 percent of their rebounding from last year’s Elite 8 and SEC championship team

john-calipari-kentucky-wildcats-basketball-coach-cal

On the flip side, there is not a side anywhere that can match this Kentucky basketball team when it comes to pure talent being present on the roster.

Now that you can include the re-classified Hamidou Diallo, they have a freshman class with six 5-star players and two 4-stars. Leading the way you have five 2017 McDonald’s All-Americans in Jarred VanderbiltQuade GreenNick RichardsP.J. Washington and Kevin Knox.

Key Players: See above, and click on the names where highlighted for a much more detailed profile on said player. Add into the mix Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel, the only two scholarship returnees who saw game action last season. Diallo is really something special though- when was the last time you had a player coming back, having had NBA Draft exploration process experience, yet not having seen an actual minute of time in a real game? 

Go here for more on Diallo, who looks like a potential lottery pick.

kentucky wildcats

Go here to this link to see where we have all of these Kentucky players slotted in our latest NBA mock draft.

Key Games: 

The season really begins Tuesday night against #4 Kansas, at the United Center in Chicago, and currently, ESPN gives the Jayhawks a 69% chance beating UK in their match-up predictor. That’s understandable given how much more seasoned KU is than Kentucky. This really is a game that if you play in March, you probably get a much different result than you will see tomorrow night.

Kentucky basketball leads the all time series 22-8, with the most famous meeting being of course the 2012 national title game, won by the Wildcats.

The Cats struggled in the season opener, trailing Utah Valley in the second half! Opponent #2, the Vermont Catamounts, wouldn’t go quietly either. Kentucky had to just hold on against them.

Remember though that the Catamounts had the longest winning streak in the NCAA last season at 21, and they also had 29 victories, which was an America East conference record. Their streak finally ended in the first round of the tournament with their loss to Purdue in Milwaukee.

They’ll take on UCLA in another made for television blue blood programs double header on Festivus, with the annual commonwealth rivalry clash versus Louisville six days later.

Once again Kentucky basketball should rule the SEC roost, but the main rivals for the crown will be Texas A&M (Jan 9, Feb 10), Georgia (New Year’s Eve) and Florida (Jan 20, Mar 3)

champions classic

Strengths: 

It’s more than just the top ranked recruiting class nationally coming in, it’s a much larger group than usual. They also perfectly embody the new craze of position less basketball that’s sweeping the nation. Or they have the skill sets within this mantra to mismatch and then eventually beat you really badly.

A lot of the rookies coming in have both one through three skill sets and four to five size. They’re too long and lean for your guards to handle, and too athletic and skilled for your bigs to defend. Kentucky basketball will provide match-up nightmares for opponents all around, all season long.

However, like we said, they’re extremely green, and it’s going to take time for them to develop.

kentucky basketball

Weaknesses:

The injury bug has taken a big chomp already. Six days ago we learned that Jemarl Baker is expected to miss the next three months after undergoing left knee surgery last week. The Wildcats are hopeful to have Baker back during conference play.

Jarred Vanderbilt was initially expected to have foot surgery and be out three months. However, we learned last week that he will not go under the knife and will begin conditioning, followed by individual workouts with assistant coach Kenny Payne, then resume practicing with the team. The original time table had him out until January.

UK ranks 325th in the nation in points per game returning, and Gabriel is the leading returning scorer (4.8 ppg) and rebounder (4.8 rpg), he may not be even be a starter.

kentucky basketball

Kentucky Basketball 2017-18 Potential Depth Chart 

PG Quade Green/Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Wing/SG Hamidou Diallo/Jamarl Baker/Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Wing/SF Kevin Knox/Wenyen Gabriel/Jarred Vanderbilt/

PF P.J. Washington/Sacha Killeya-Jones/Wenyen Gabriel

C Nick Richards/Tai Wynard

hamidou-diallo

Realistic Outlook:

Lindy’s has projected them sixth nationally, and headed to the Elite 8, the same round that Athlon predicted. The following sentence applies to Lexington, and only a handful of other blue blood programs. With just one Final Four the past five years, and two Elite 8s, the pressure is on Kentucky basketball to go really deep in the tourney this March.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune corporation blogging community Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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