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Kentucky Basketball won’t face much resistance in SEC

The Wildcats will be an unstoppable force in the SEC this season.

SEC Tipoff 2015
Kentucky head men's basketball coach John Calipari at SEC Tipoff 2015. Courtesy of ESPN Images.
ESPN Images

Since John Calipari took over the Kentucky Wildcats basketball program seven years ago, he has run through the following story line nearly every year: Kentucky has the best recruiting class in the country; it's Final-Four-or-Bust for Coach Cal.

The Wildcats are like the San Antonio Spurs of College basketball. Often, Calipari and the Wildcats live up to those expectations, like their Final Four appearance just two seasons ago, or the National Championship they won in 2012. Sometimes, though, they fall short of those high expectation. Last year, by Kentucky standards, was falling short.

Fortunately for Calipari, each season at UK is like beginning anew. Whatever happened the season before, both good or bad, is washed away by a sparkling new recruiting class.

Out with Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis, in with the new. "New" for the 2016-17 basketball season is four of the top 14 and five of the top 24 players in the country committing to Lexington.

The argument against such recruiting practices was that a team of freshmen, no matter how talented, could not win consistently. Bringing in such a large amount of recruits each year would also stunt the players' growth. The argument for this tactic is easy enough to see in Kentucky's and Calipari's respective trophy cases.

For the 2016-17 season, this high level of talent will once again place Kentucky atop the Southeastern Conference, and it isn't particularly close. The SEC is no doubt a football conference, and few teams annually challenge Kentucky anyway, but recently it has become embarrassing.

Every few years, someone like Texas A&M can emerge and put up a fight for the conference crown, but no other school consistently resides on Kentucky's level.

De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk once again bring huge size and athleticism to the Wildcat backcourt. Each stands 6-3. If Calipari decides to run a full freshmen lineup, the two guards would be flanked by a trio of 6-10 athletes, all rated as 5-star prospects.

And this doesn't even include any returning players, such as former top recruit Isaiah Briscoe, though the Cats are a little light on valuable returnees overall this season. Coach Cal will once again be flooded with talent; it will be up to him to harness these guys and create a rotation that best accentuates each player's strengths.

All of this is why in CBS Sports’ season preview of the SEC, it’s nothing but Kentucky among their award winners and picks to win the league.

Player of the Year: Malik Monk, Kentucky

Arkansas' Moses Kingsley is the official SEC Preseason Player of the Year, which is fine. But if Kentucky runs away with the league title -- FWIW: KenPom projects UK to win the SEC by three games -- a Wildcat will probably receive the postseason Player of the Year award.

The only question is which one. And, frankly, there's no simple answer. It could easily be Bam Adebayo or De'Aaron Fox. But we went with Monk -- the 6-3 guard who is an amazing athlete and above-average shooter. He'll probably lead UK in scoring. He'll definitely lead UK in highlights.

Freshman of the Year: Malik Monk, Kentucky

Monk is a freshman and our pick for SEC Player of the Year. So, obviously, he's also the pick for Freshman of the Year. The Arkansas native won the 3-point shooting contest, and finished second in the dunk contest, at the 2016 McDonald's All-American Game. So he's effective from beyond the arc and explosive around the rim.

Coach of the Year: John Calipari, Kentucky

I've never understood why coaches are penalized in Coach of the Year voting for recruiting too well because, let's be honest, recruiting is a huge part of the job. To punish a coach for that is nonsensical. So, yeah, Kentucky will likely win the SEC because it has the best players, by far. Nobody could intelligently argue otherwise. But Calipari recruited those players. And he should be rewarded accordingly if he uses them to win a third straight league title.

Preseason All-SEC team

G: De'Aaron Fox | Kentucky | Freshman

G: J.J. Frazier | Georgia | Senior

G: Malik Monk | Kentucky | Freshman

F: Moses Kingsley | Arkansas | Senior

F: Bam Adebayo | Kentucky | Freshman

Elsewhere in the SEC, it is hard to find a competitor to Kentucky. It may end up being Texas A&M again, almost by default. No one else in the conference stands out, and even A&M will be without four starters from last season. No matter what you think of UK, there is a drastic drop-off in quality tournament teams after it this year.

For the Aggies, sophomore center Tyler Davis is a player that could create trouble for UK. He has a big body, not like the wiry-framed "centers" many colleges work with these days. He was also very productive as just a 22-minute-per-game freshman last year.

If some of the incoming players step into holes, Davis and company can be good again...Just not as good as Kentucky.