With the deadline for players to decide on their draft status having come and gone, rosters for next year are nearly complete (especially Kentucky’s). Which means it’s time for college basketball experts to begin attempting to rank teams based on things that happened two months ago and things they think will happen about six months from now.
While these rankings are way too early, it’s no surprise that the experts are grading Kentucky very highly early on.
NBC Sports has them ranked No. 4, behind Michigan State (1), Arizona (2), and Kansas (3).
Who’s gone: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Mychal Mulder, Dominique Hawkins
Who do they add: Hamidou Diallo, Quade Green, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker
Projected starting lineup: Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo*, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, Nick Richards
Kentucky is a tough team to peg for next season. They should be really good defensively — Hamidou Diallo and Jarred Vanderbilt are elite defenders — and insanely athletic, but it’s going to be another year where we don’t know who shoots it for Kentucky. Adding Knox is big.
ESPN also has them ranked No. 4, behind the same three teams, but in the order of Arizona (1), Kansas (2) and Michigan State (3).
Wenyen Gabriel (4.6 PPG) averaged nearly 18 minutes last season, but he's the significant veteran on Kentucky's young roster. John Calipari's best teams featured elite veterans. He had Willie Cauley-Stein on the 38-1 squad in 2014-15. He had Darius Miller on the 2012 national championship squad. Based on experience, Calipari's next group looks like the team that failed to make the NCAA tournament the year after that title run. But this is not a season with an abundance of sure things in college basketball. Question marks decorate this entire top 25 list. Yes, Kentucky lacks experience, but five of its incoming players are five-star prospects, part of the top-ranked recruiting class on ESPN.com. If any coach can turn this young bunch into an army of world-beaters come March, it's Calipari. And the return of Hamidou Diallo, a freakish athlete who practiced with last year's squad after graduating early and joining the Wildcats second semester, adds another player who could develop under Calipari and blossom into an all-SEC level talent. The Wildcats could use a shooter or two, but Kevin Knox & Co. possess the athleticism, size and speed to haunt opponents on defense and attack on offense. With expanded minutes, Gabriel could become a consistent defensive threat and reliable cog on the other side of the court if he develops a midrange game this summer.
Fourth is a good place to be in way-too-early rankings. Especially when two of the three teams above you always fall short of expectations in the tournament, and the other you beat by 21 points last year.
Also, remember that Duke was the No. 1 team at this point in the year last year.