2018 Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Predictions with Odds and Expert Picks
The story in Kentucky is a very familiar one under John Calipari. The team has lost a huge portion of their rotation from last year, but it likely won't matter as they have reloaded with a host of blue-chip talents - several of which won't be here next year. Managing the revolving door, and getting all of these young talents to play together quickly, is what Calipari does better than anything else - besides recruiting, of course.
Kentucky Wildcats Additions/Losses
The team lost four players, all freshmen, in the NBA Draft last year. Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander were lottery picks, while Jarred Vanderbilt and Hamidou Diallo went in the second round. For most teams losing that kind of talent would be crippling. For Kentucky it's just like any year. The team also saw Tai Wynyard, Dillon Pulliam and Sacha Killeya-Jones transfer. Wenyen Gabriel declared for the draft but wasn't selected. He signed a two-way contract with the Sacramento Kings.
You don't need to cry for Calipari. He added five recruits who were five-stars at one or more of the recruiting services. E.J. Montgomery, a power forward from Georgia, was the highest ranked of the players. The nation's top-rated point guard, Ashton Hagans, is joined in the class by fifth-ranked point guard Immanuel Quickley. Small forward Keldon Johnson and shooting guard Tyler Herro round out the five, with the latter being the only one that wasn't a consensus five-star. It's a ridiculously talented group. All five will be part of a rotation like is likely to be made up of only nine players, so they are going to get significant playing time.
Aside from those five youngsters, there are three sophomores that are going to be rotational guys. That left Calipari with a shortage of experienced players to provide leadership, so he somewhat uncharacteristically went shopping for a grad transfer. And when you are Kentucky you can attract a good one. Reid Travis was at Stanford for four years, taking a medical redshirt as a sophomore to give himself another year of eligibility now. The power forward has been all-Pac 12 the last two years, and he averaged better than 19 points last year. There is always the risk that a grad transfer won't mesh to a new system easily, and Kentucky is certainly a different universe than Stanford, but the upside here - and the veteran leadership - are significant factors for this team.
Kentucky Wildcats Outlook
There is a lot to like here. The talent level across the board is as high as any in the country. They have four big men and five guards in the rotation, so they have depth. They have three highly-rated point guards on the roster, so the things they will be able to do with ball handling will be limited only by Calipari's creativity. Hagans and Johnson project as high-level defenders, too, so this won't just be a one-dimensional team looking to run people off the court.
If there is a concern, it would be that while the nine players are all talented, the way to use them best doesn't jump right off the page. Finding units that work, and figuring out chemistry and pecking orders, is something that Kentucky is going to have to figure out in a hurry. That was a problem last year for the team, which is why they looked so ordinary early on before rounding into form as the season went on.
The other thing that is surprising about a team this talented is that we don't clearly know who is going to be the star. At Duke they have a pile of talent, but everyone knows R.J. Barrett is the man - and not just because he, like me, is a Canadian. Here, there isn't a guy who is clearly going to be the focus of the attention and the guy to step up when the team needs it. There is a group of stellar sous chefs, but is there a head chef to run the show?
Kentucky Wildcats Schedule
There is no easing into things as Kentucky opens up against Duke. Nothing like starting the season off with one of the best games of the year. The rest of the nonconference schedule is mostly easy - at least until later in December when they face North Carolina on Dec. 22 and then a Louisville team that likely won't be great on Dec. 29. On Jan. 26 they have a final nonconference tilt, and it's another doozy - against Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The nonconference schedule is a good one for the team in that they have measuring stick games and chances for big wins, but after the Duke opener they have a long stretch of games to figure things out, iron out the problems, and get ready for when games really matter. The conference schedule is very manageable. They never play more than two games in a row on the road, and it's not like the SEC is the deepest or toughest conference.
Kentucky Wildcats Futures Odds and Trends
Kentucky is the co-favorite to win the national title at Bovada at +500, tied with the team they open their season against. Tennessee at +2800, Auburn at +4500 and Florida at +5000 are the only other SEC teams at less than 75/1 to win the conference, so Kentucky is very well positioned to win another SEC crown. They failed to win the conference regular-season crown last year after winning the three prior years.
Kentucky Wildcats Predictions
Kentucky is always so interesting to watch because it's never obvious how it will turn out. They are loaded with talent, but the Wildcats so often are less than the sum of their parts. At their best this is a National Championship roster. But if they were to win just 25 or 26 games and lose on the first or second weekend of the tournament, it would be no surprise, either. That is, of course, what happened last year after they entered the season as a Top 5 team loaded with stunning young talent. I think the SEC title is likely this year, but the National Championship odds feel far too low.
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