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Kentucky Basketball MVP through 6 games

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Which single player has meant the most to the Cats through the first six games?

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky Media Day
Kentucky Wildcats forward Jarred Vanderbilt (2) , forward Nick Richards (4) forward , Kevin Knox (5) , forward P.J. Washington (25) and other teammates during media day at Memorial Coliseum. 
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Happy post-Thanksgiving to all.

After Kentucky handed Fort Wayne an 86-67 loss Wednesday night, the Cats are now 5-1 on the season and have reached the halfway point of their non-conference schedule. I wanted to use this post to select an early MVP for the Wildcats.

So how does one determine an MVP? Is it the player you would miss their presence the most? Is it the player who steps up in the biggest games? Is it the player who leads the team in the most categories? I would say all three of those questions are among the many factors considered.

Who would we miss the most?

NCAA Basketball: East Tennessee State at Kentucky
enyen Gabriel (32) reaches for a loose ball over East Tennessee State Buccaneers guard Jermaine Long (24) in the first half at Rupp Arena.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

As far as who the Wildcats would miss the most through their first six games, I think an argument could be made for Wenyen Gabriel. He hasn’t led Kentucky outright in any single major statistic in those six games, and he has played the sixth-most amount of minutes on the team as the sixth man. But Calipari knows he can rely on Gabriel as the first off the bench as soon as one of his five starting freshmen ultimately make freshmen mistakes. Having a sixth man with actual experience playing in every game last season is valuable. Gabriel gives the Cats a presence that doesn’t necessarily translate to numbers on paper, but I think UK would be significantly worse-especially this early in the season-without Gabriel’s presence.

Looking at overall stat columns...

NCAA Basketball: Troy at Kentucky
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) controls the ball as Troy Trojans guard Kevin Baker (0) defends in the first half at Rupp Arena.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

When you look at the major statistical categories, three different Cats are at the top in two categories: Nick Richards is first in rebounds and in field goal percentage, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is atop the assists and steals categories, and Quade Green leads Kentucky in both free throw percentage and three-point percentage. Gilgeous-Alexander is second in field goal percentage and free throw percentage, while Kevin Knox leads Kentucky in points per game and is second in rebounds, steals, and three-point percentage.

Big performances in big games...

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Kansas
Kevin Knox (5) dunks during the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks at United Center.
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky’s biggest game, without a doubt, was in the Champions Classic against Kansas. While the Cats lost 61-65, it was a solid effort from a young team versus the fourth-ranked team in the nation. So who played the best in that game? Knox scored 20 of UK’s 61 points and added seven of the Cats’ 39 rebounds against the Jayhawks. Hamidou Diallo was second in scoring with 14 points and led the Cats with four assists in the same game. Sacha Killeya-Jones was tied for first in rebounds with nine and scored the third-most points with eight.

NCAA Basketball: Vermont at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

I would argue that the second-biggest game Kentucky has had this season was a 73-69 victory over Vermont. Vermont was an NCAA Tournament team a year ago, and returned four starters from the squad that won 29 games in the 2016-17 season. PJ Washington had the most impressive performance against the Catamounts, recording his first and only double double, leading the Cats with 17 points and 10 boards. Diallo, Green, and Knox all had solid performances against Vermont.

So who is the MVP?

NCAA Basketball: IUPU - Ft. Wayne at Kentucky
Kevin Knox (5) dribbles the ball against Fort Wayne Mastodons guard Bryson Scott (1) in the first half at Rupp Arena.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

I have to give it to Kevin Knox. He has established himself as the go-to scorer and also has been a significant presence on the glass. He has played well in big games and it is hard to think the Cats would look as good as they have to this point without Knox. It’s still early, and who knows what Kentucky will look like when it eventually adds another freshman to the mix in Jarred Vanderbilt?

It’s hard to pick away from Knox at this stage. Time will tell if he can keep it up throughout the remainder of the season.

The Cats will take on University of Illinois-Chicago as their next challenge, this Sunday at 6 p.m. ET in Rupp Arena.