Odds to win Title: +500
2018-19 Record: 26-11 (10-8 SEC)
NCAA Tournament: Lost to Kansas State in Sweet Sixteen
When a 26-win season is considered a down year, it begins to tell the story of just how dominant the Kentucky Wildcats usually are.
Coach John Calipari did it again, bringing in perhaps the most talented recruiting class, even considering that the Wildcats did miss out on mega-prospect Zion Williamson, who ended up opting to join Duke. That aside, Kentucky brings in seven five-star prospects and three four-star prospects, and Calipari has a nice mix this season of talented freshman and some returning players to hopefully gel the team into an NCAA title contender.
Coach Cal said as much regarding the amalgam of players, “The best teams I’ve had were the combination of young kids with returning vets…”
This year fits that mold, entirely.
The Wildcats received a major boost from Stanford transfer Travis Reed, who is expected to be one of the stars of this year’s team. He averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season, and he will be playing alongside PJ Washington, who opted not to turn pro in the spring.
Washington was an invaluable contributor in the tournament, averaging nearly 14 points per game and shooting 63 percent from the floor in Kentucky’s three tournament games. Adding to these two starting big men are the talents of Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery.
Richards started all 37 games as a freshman last season, but he faltered down the stretch and has his playing time greatly reduced. Kentucky is hoping he has worked on his offensive arsenal more during the offseason because he is already an outstanding defender individually and within team-defense structures. Montgomery may find himself in a time-share situation at the 4-spot, but that also largely depends on how Coach Cal structures his lineup, as a three-guard starting lineup is quite possible and even likely.
The backcourt is where Kentucky really gets interesting, with plenty of depth and competition for the scarcity of actual playing time for these young talents. At point guard alone, Kentucky has three five-star recruits fighting for one starting role. Quade Green and Immanuel Quickley are probably the favorites, but Ashton Hagans will be in the picture as well. Jemarl Baker missed last season with a knee injury, but he and Tyler Herro both will add a lot of outside shooting that the Wildcats sorely lacked a year ago.
Freshman Keldon Johnson is a five-star recruit on the wing, and he brings plenty of energy and passion to the court that hopefully will be infectious with his teammates. The losses of key performers Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox will be no small losses, but Kentucky has definitely replaced their talents with an assortment of shooters that should bolster the offense to heights higher than it ever saw last season, anyway.
Kentucky probably missed on the most exciting recruit it would have had in years by not snagging Zion Williamson, but ignoring the plethora of five-star recruits Cal did land would be foolish. The Cats have more competition in the SEC this year, but not winning the Conference would be fairly devastating to Coach Cal and the entire program.
The Wildcats are favorites to make the Final Four, and Vegas oddsmakers list it as +500 to win the title. “Duke Or Kentucky” is a question fans will get a chance to answer early this season as they clash Tuesday on opening night at 8:30 CST on ESPN. With No. 2 ranked Kentucky hosting No. 4 Duke, it promises to kick the season off in exciting fashion.