Just a few days ago I was writing about how Mustapha Heron, Auburn’s first 5-star recruit could drastically help the Tigers make improvements this season. Now it’s time to preview the Kentucky Wildcats and their five new 5-star newcomers. Once again, John Calipari has brought in one of the top classes in the country and the Kentucky Wildcats are poised to be the best team in the SEC and one of the best teams in the country once again.
Last season may have been a slight disappointment by Kentucky’s standards but this year’s recruiting class combined with a few key returning players has the Wildcats ready to make a deeper run in March. Aside from Duke, Kentucky probably has the most talented team this season and if they can reach their potential, the sky’s the limit and they could be destined for a showdown with the Blue Devils in the NCAA Championship Game.
Predicting that the Kentucky Wildcats will be very good at basketball is nothing new, but what players are propelling this year’s high expectations? First up is big man Edrice “Bam” Adebayo who is a long and powerful post player that is finding himself on several preseason Wooden Award watch lists as a freshman. Adebayo could potentially average a double-double with ease and anchor the baseline of another dominant Kentucky front court. Alongside Adebayo will be Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones who provide quality size and depth and slightly different styles of play than Adebayo.
For the newcomers in the back court, the Wildcats will be guided by top rated players De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Fox and Monk were co-MVPs at the Jordan Brand Classic earlier this year and Big Blue Nation sure hopes that productive chemistry carries over to this season for the Wildcats as well. Last season, Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray powered the Wildcats from the back court and Fox, Monk, and other will need to step up in similar ways if Kentucky is going to be as good and even better than last season’s team.
Kentucky will always bring in fresh, top talent each season and they embody the term “reload” better than any other team. However, this season, the success will fall on the few returning players that could make a huge difference for the Wildcats. One of last year’s star recruits, Isaiah Briscoe chose to stick around for one more year in the white and blue and he could be the driving force that pushes Kentucky even further this season. Briscoe averaged just under 10 PPG last season and also led Kentucky guards in rebounding at 5.6 RPG. He’ll need to step up as a leader this season to help guide the new talent, especially in the early games and in non-conference play.
Another less obvious player that will need to step up this season as an essential role player will be senior forward Derek Willis. Willis averaged a respectable 7.7 PPG and 4 RPG off the bench last season and most importantly shot an impressive 44% from deep. This season, Kentucky will need continued efficiency from behind the three point line from Willis and added rebounding, especially from the outside will greatly benefit the Wildcats. Willis will once again be an interesting player to watch, but if he finds ways to be a contributing player as well, Kentucky can do big things this season.
This season Kentucky has another team that talent-wise could rival their 2010 and 2012 squads. The Wildcats have a typically brutal non-conference schedule but should be able to blow through an SEC league that’s still trying to catch-up. Will the SEC be enough to prepare the Wildcats for another deep run in march? Only time will tell.
#0 De’Aaron Rox, 6’3” 5-star G from Cypress Lakes HS
#1 Sacha Killeya-Jones, 6’10” 5-star F from Virginia Episcopal
#3 Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, 6’10” F from High Point Christian Academy
#5 Malik Monk, 6’3” 5-star G from Bentonville HS
#14 Tai Wynyard, 6’10” F from New Zealand
#32 Wenyen Gabriel, 6’9” F from Wilbraham & Monson Academy
#0 De’Aaron Fox, 6’3” G - 5-star, 6th ranked player nationally
#1 Sacha Killeya-Jones, 6’10” F - 5-star, 24th ranked player nationally
#3 Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, 6’10” F - 5-star, 9th ranked player nationally, early Wooden Award Candidate
#5 Malik Monk, 6’3” G - 5-star, 11th ranked player nationally
#13 Isaiah Briscoe, 6’3” G - Leading returning scorer at 9.6 PPG who also had 5.3 RPG and 3.1 APG last season
#32 Wenyen Gabriel, 6’9” F - 5-star, 14th ranked player nationally
#35 Derek Willis, 6’9” F - Had 7.7 PPG and 4 RPG last season while shooting 44% from three
2016-2017 Season Predictions
|vs Stephen F. Austin||W|
|vs Cleveland State||W|
|vs UT Martin||W|
|@ Ole Miss||W|
|vs Texas A&M||W|
|@ Mississippi State||W|
|vs South Carolina||W|
|@ Texas A&M||L|