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Kentucky Basketball: Wildcats Team Preview and Season Prediction 2021-22

Keion Brooks Jr., Kentucky Wildcats Basketball

Keion Brooks Jr. and the Wildcats are ranked No. 9 in Athlon Sports' Top 25 for the 2021-22 college basketball season

Kentucky basketball is used to annual turnover, but the roster churn is normally a by-product of a steady stream of NBA Draft lottery picks leaving campus.

Kentucky will feature a new-look roster again in 2021-22, but only one of the departures was picked in the first round of the draft (Isaiah Jackson, 22nd). Instead, John Calipari rebooted his program in response to the Wildcats' worst season in almost 100 years.

To bounce back from an embarrassing 9–16 season, Calipari signed three top-40 high school recruits and four Division I transfers. He also hired assistant coaches Ron "Chin" Coleman and Orlando Antigua, a key figure in Kentucky's early success during Calipari's tenure, away from Illinois.

Related: College Basketball Top 25 for 2021-22

At a Glance

HEAD COACH: John Calipari

2020-21 RECORD (SEC): 9-16 (8-9)

2020-21 POSTSEASON: None

KEY LOSSES:
G Devin Askew (6.5 ppg, 2.9 apg)
G Brandon Boston Jr. (11.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
G Terrence Clarke (9.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
F Isaiah Jackson (8.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
F Olivier Sarr (10.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

Frontcourt

Kentucky lost Jackson to the NBA Draft after he flirted with returning to school, but the Wildcats still have a strong nucleus in the frontcourt.

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As the only scholarship player on the roster to have played in front of a capacity Rupp Arena, Keion Brooks Jr. will serve as the team's veteran leader. His ability to play as a stretch-4 or on the wing should add helpful versatility. West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe, who enrolled at Kentucky in January, is the type of bruising low-post presence the Wildcats lacked last season. His production dipped slightly during his sophomore season at West Virginia, but if he can match the 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game he averaged as a freshman, Tshiebwe will be one of Kentucky's best players.

The most talented player of the group might be five-star freshman forward Daimion Collins, the No. 13-ranked recruit in the high school class of 2021, who is already an elite shot-blocker but remains a work in progress on offense.

Keep an eye on junior forward Jacob Toppin, the younger brother of former National Player of the Year Obi Toppin, as a possible breakout candidate. Sophomore forward Lance Ware and freshman forward Bryce Hopkins will provide additional depth and could force Calipari to expand his rotation.

As of the time of publication, Kentucky was still in the running for five-star center Jalen Duren, the No. 1-ranked prospect in the high school class of 2022 who was widely rumored to be planning a move to the class of 2021.

Backcourt

After point guard Devin Askew transferred to Texas and signee Nolan Hickman flipped his commitment to Gonzaga, Calipari replaced them with five-star high school point guard TyTy Washington and Georgia transfer Sahvir Wheeler, the SEC's reigning assists leader.

Davion Mintz, who played both on and off the ball while leading Kentucky in total points last season, also elected to return to school to use the extra year of eligibility granted all players due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After years of downplaying the importance of 3-point shooting, Calipari appears to have embraced the sport's growing emphasis on shooting with the additions of Davidson transfer Kellan Grady and Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick. Mintz and sophomore guard Dontaie Allen also shot better than 37 percent from 3-point range last season. Washington won the 3-point shooting contest at the Iverson Classic all-star high school basketball game.

Brooks, Toppin and Hopkins can also play on the wing when Calipari wants to play a bigger lineup. That option could be particularly appealing if Kentucky lands Duren, though it would run contrary to Calipari's goal of increasing his team's 3-point shooting.

Final Analysis

Can Kentucky immediately bounce back from the program's second losing season since the Great Depression to contend for a national championship? Players and coaches have pointed to a normal summer of team-building as reason to hope the latest group of high-level talent will be able to jell quickly enough to return to the program's usual prominence. There's plenty of talent to make a case for Kentucky as a preseason top-10 team, but 2020-21 taught Wildcats fans that preseason hype does not guarantee wins.

Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
SEC Prediction: 1