A Way Too Early Look at Next Season for Kentucky
With the college basketball season officially coming to a close last night it is time to peak ahead at what next season could bring for Kentucky. With the Cats early exit from the NCAA tournament it left Big Blue Nation disinterested in the tournament the last couple weeks. With that said there is no doubt that UK fans were likely happy with Villanova winning the title instead of North Carolina or any other rival team. It is hard to say that an SEC regular season co-championship and an SEC tournament championship team was a down year but the reality is that fans want more. John Calipari has created some lofty expectations in the Bluegrass state and he embraces it completely. This past seasons team had certain flaws that made their margin for error paper thin and in the end it is what cut their season short. This coming team will have their share of flaws as well but the margin for error will be much greater.
The roster is not completely set for next season but no matter how it finishes up the Cats will enter the year with a top 5 ranking at worst. The biggest question marks in regards to next season revolve around Isaiah Briscoe, Marcus Lee, and recruits Marques Bolden, Jarrett Allen, and Omer Yurtseven. Tyler Ulis and Skal Labissiere will eventually join Jamal Murray and enter their names in the NBA draft. Here is the roster that we can be pretty certain of at this point.
1. Derek Willis-After a breakout junior season he is ready to be part of the regular rotation next season whether it is as a starter or off the bench. His shooting makes him a dangerous weapon on offense but it is his defense and rebounding that will be the key to how much he plays. He has said that he plans to spend the summer working on his defense. He will likely play small forward much more next season so defensive improvement would be huge.
2. Dominique Hawkins-It was an injury filled season for him which hindered him from solidifying a concrete role on the team. He had a career best game against Louisville and has shown on multiple occasions that he can play at the highest level. In his final year I think he will carve out 8-10 minutes per game.
3. Mychal Mulder-He played very little last season but always seemed to be a great teammate and positive impact on the bench. It seems unlikely that his role will increase much this season but he is a great team player that is nice to have available if needed.
4. Isaac Humphries-He showed flashes of potential last year and should continue to develop in the off season. His size and touch around the basket should get him on the floor some in most games next year. How much depends on how hard he works this summer.
5. Charles Matthews-He was a bit of a forgotten man at times last season but he has a lot of upside. He will surprise some people next year as he develops into a regular rotation player. The big jump will come in his junior season when he could become a starter.
6. Tai Wynyard-The never ending question of last season was “will Wynyard play?” and now there is a definitive answer. The question now is how much he will play. He will probably only see spot minutes this year but it will be interesting to finally see him on a basketball court.
7. Sacha Killeya-Jones- A 6’10 forward ranked 26th overall will give the Cats length off the bench as well as a good shooting touch from outside the paint.
8. Wenyen Gabriel- A 6’9 forward ranked 13th overall has a high motor on the glass and is a versatile scorer inside and out. He could play small forward some and is a strong candidate for the starting lineup.
9. Bam Adebayo- Another 6’9 forward that will have a huge impact on the season. Ranked 11th overall he will almost certainly find himself in the starting lineup from day one. He is an elite level rebounder that plays extremely hard. He is a freakish athlete that dunks everything around the rim.
10. De’Aaron Fox- A 6’4 point guard ranked 4th overall will once again give the Cats one of the best lead guards in the nation. He is know for his quickness and has even drawn comparisons to John Wall. It will take time for him to learn how Cal wants him to play which will bring some growing pains but they will pay off in the long run. Fox will start from day one and his electric personality will make him a fan favorite.
11. Malik Monk- A 6’3 guard ranked 5th overall will likely be the Cats leading scorer. He has a solid shot from outside but can be a bit streaky at times. He is most effective when driving to the rim where he can use his explosive athleticism to jump over opponents. Monk should be one of the best guards in the open court that the Cats have had in a while. He will likely be a Sportscenter Top 10 regular with his highlight reel dunks.
12. ???- If Isaiah Briscoe returns to Kentucky he will help the young team go through the learning process and help them a lot early in the year. He would start in a three guard back-court again but this time it would be with Fox and Monk. He is the most important piece that the Cats could add to the above roster.
13. ???- Marcus Lee could be a valuable player for the Cats next season if he chooses to return. He could be a starter early in the season and then become one of the first players off the bench as the season goes on. He would help shorten the Cats learning curve as a veteran player.
???-Marques Bolden, Jarrett Allen, and Omer Yurtseven are all big men that Cal is recruiting. Only one of the players would be added but it is possible none are added. Bolden is the most likely candidate but some think his parents favor Duke while he favors UK. Allen will likely end up at a Texas school but if Cal misses on Bolden he could ramp up the recruitment of him. Yurtseven is a Turkish big man that is projected as a 1st round draft pick in 2017. He supposedly wants to play college basketball and has maintained his amateur status while playing in Turkey. He may be option 3 in the scenario but he is an interesting wildcard. If Lee and Briscoe return and no players transfer it will mean all 13 scholarship spots are filled. That would require Cal to juggle the roster in some way if he wants to add one final recruit.
Walk-ons-Brad Calipari, EJ Floreal, Dillon Pulliam, and Johnny David-This is the strongest group of walk-ons that Cal has had.
The 11 scholarship players we are certain of are enough for the Cats to contend for a national title. There will likely be some early season losses but this group of freshman is as special as any that Cal has landed. Fox and Monk are likely the best freshman back-court duo that Cal has had at UK. The front-court goes from paper thin to phone book thick for the Cats. They will once again overpower teams with sheer size, length, and athleticism. It seems like an eternity will pass before basketball season returns but wait patiently BBN because Big Blue Madness will be here before you know it.