Title Odds: +700
Odds c/o Bovada
Kentucky was gift-wrapped another star recruiting class, but its biggest gift may have been Isaiah Briscoe deciding to return for one more season in the NCAA. Briscoe, seniors Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins along with sophomore Isaac Humphries, will give the Wildcats plenty of experience around the seven top-flight newcomers.
Kentucky’s newcomers are also hole-fillers. The Wildcats were not a dominant team on the interior last year, but add Bam Adebayo, a traditional big-bodied 5 who will command plenty of attention in the post. Fellow incoming freshman Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones further this argument. Though Killeya-Jones is short on bulk, he is not on talent. Getting him in the weight room is imperative, because he will remind too many Cats fans of the disappointments of Skal Labissiere without it.
Even so, this trio is plenty talented and will give the Cats some inside strength it lacked last season. Adebayo has already earned the label of “beast” from Coach Calipari, and though he does it all with power, he may not need finesse until he gets to the next level. This is a guy who finds his way to bull in for dunks, and as Coach Cal said himself, “if he gets it, he is either going to dunk it or break your arm.” Not a fun proposition for defenders.
Willis may be the key to the frontcourt given the strides he made last season. His arrest for public intoxication over the summer is an embarrassment of sorts, but it should not cripple him in any way. He is talented enough to be a “stretch-4” but powerful enough to go inside. He hit 44.2 percent from behind the arc last season as a junior and his leadership will be as vital as his skill-set. The Wildcats need him to stay focused, because he very well could be the leader this team needs with seven newcomers.
Coach Cal will start three guards alongside (likely) Adebayo and Willis. Briscoe is the headliner. Starting with him will be two combo guards in De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Both are thought to be lottery picks of the one-and-done variety, and Fox has drawn comparisions to former Wildcat John Wall.
Briscoe needs to prove himself offensively to help his draft stock, and he will have to handle the ball much more like a point guard given that he is 6’3” and will need to play that position transitioning to the next level.
Fox will still see the majority of the time at the 1, per se, and he is a strong guard with the size to play both the 1 and 2 spots. Monk is a highlight machine and can “jump outta the gym.” Not that anyone expects Kentucky to ever be boring, but Monk’s highlights will just be one more reason for Cats fans to get excited. He is dunk-champion material, and he can shoot the ball on top of it.
Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder add depth, with Mulder being a marksman and Hawkins a lockdown defender. They are useful role players who will factor into the team’s success, though most eyes will be on the starting trio.
Duke won the recruiting battle, but Kentucky is hardly bare on the shelves. The key will likely not be the explsosive freshman, but Coach Cal finding a way to get his more experienced Wildcats to lead this group. As mentioned in the Duke season preview, blending one-and-done talents with experience is what leads to titles. Both Duke and Kentucky seem to have learned this fairly well now. Expect Kentucky to be there as usual, but winning the 2017 NCAA title depends on this team coming together and maturing.
Talent alone cannot get it done. Fortunately, Coach Cal knows a thing or two about taking inexperienced freshman and having them perform as though they are seasoned vets.