2020 Kentucky Championship Odds: Wildcats Bring in Another Top Recruiting Class
Stop me if you have heard this before - a ridiculously deep recruiting class is added to some returning talent to give the Kentucky Wildcats a highly-regarded team that is expected to do big things. It should sound familiar, because it's what happens every year. This year John Calipari has brought in the second-ranked recruiting class, and now his team is ranked second in the preseason poll. But this just isn't the case of five young stars trying to figure things out in the one year they are in Lexington. Point guard Ashton Hagans didn't even flirt with the draft even though he had a fairly solid freshman season with 30 starts. His return is a big boost, and there are other experienced guys returning as well. Junior Nick Richards and sophomore E.J. Montgomery are both back in the frontcourt after they looked at the draft. Neither is a polished product, but they both have plenty of upside. And Immanuel Quickley is back off the bench in the backcourt. Because it's Kentucky, all three of those guys are former five-star recruits with huge upside.
The last two years, Kentucky has wound up disappointing compared to expectations in the NCAA Tournament. John Calipari obviously isn't in any danger or anything, but he could use a more successful season. Can this crew find the success the past two have not?
Kentucky Wildcats Additions/Losses
The five-player freshman class includes three five-star players. The highest rated is guard Tyrese Maxey, who is all but certain to start alongside Hagans. He is a good bet to lead the team in scoring, and it would be a pretty significant surprise if he played at Kentucky for more than one year. Kahlil Whitney, like several of the new additions, is a natural wing. He's the most likely of the group to play significant time at the 4, though. He's a freakish athlete and is another guy who seems more likely than not to be one and done at this point. The third five-star, Keion Brooks, is another wing type who has a well-rounded skill set. He seems like he'll have to determine what his role will look like going forward, though - at least more than the first two. Johnny Juzang just missed out on his fifth star, but he draws a lot of comparisons to Tyler Herro, who was drafted 13th last year from Kentucky. Juzang is an excellent three-point shooter, and that is a serious need for this team - they ranked a dismal 341st nationally last year in percentage of shots taken from deep. The fifth addition is Dontaie Allen, who was Mr. Basketball in Kentucky, but will be slow to make an impact as he returns from a torn ACL.
The team isn't just relying on young new talent. They also added forward Nate Sestina as a transfer from Bucknell. He averaged 15.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last year while shooting well from deep, and he will be a dangerous piece off the bench.
The team lost three players to the draft, and all will have to be replaced - as first-round talent always has to be. Forward P.J. Washington went 12th, Herro went 13th as we discussed, and forward Keldon Johnson went 29th.
Kentucky Wildcats Schedule
The Wildcats open against Michigan State, the No. 1 seed, at Madison Square Garden. It can't get much better than that. Then it's a stunningly easy schedule until they play Ohio State in Vegas on December 21, then a huge rivalry game against a very good Louisville team on the 28th. Then they roll into what should be a reasonably manageable slate, with the only break coming on January 25 when they play what should be a very interesting game at Texas Tech.
Kentucky Wildcats Futures Odds and Trends
Kentucky is the very strong favorite to win the SEC at +225. Florida at +450 is the only team even remotely close to them. They are the co-favorites along with Michigan State to win the national title at +800, so the stakes for that season opener couldn't possibly be bigger. The season win total sits at 29, which is tied for the highest in the country.
Despite winning 30 games last year, the team was not a lot of fun to bet on - their 20-17 ATS mark on the season was only barely profitable. They were much more useful for bettors on the total, where they went under 24 times and over just 13.
Kentucky Wildcats Predictions
They won 30 games last year, and they feel like they could be a more dangerous team this year. They have a good combination of returning talent, new guys, and a good transfer. It all leads to a roster that is well built. Things will have to come together in a hurry because of that Michigan State game, but over the slightly longer term I am very optimistic. Combine a generally weak nonconference schedule and an SEC that doesn't intimidate and the over on the season win total is attractive. I don't know that I am ready to trust Kentucky entirely because of their recent past, but I do find this squad easier to trust than the teams in the recent past.
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