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Is this John Calipari’s Toughest Rebuilding Job?

How rocky is the road for Kentucky basketball in 2017/2018?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kentucky vs North Carolina Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that with the loss of De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, and Mychal Mulder, the Kentucky Wildcats certainly seem to have an uphill climb ahead of them. With over 90% of the scoring gone and the only returning players with any experience being Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, and Tai Wynyard, John Calipari looks to be faced with his toughest rebuild as head coach at UK.

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman lines up the argument, highlighting the following bullet points as his reasoning:

  • No superstar
  • Perimeter shooting a concern
  • SEC deepest in a decade

Goodman sums it up thusly:

Kentucky won't run the table this season. In fact, don't be shocked if the Cats lose five or six games again in the regular season, something that has occurred in half of Calipari's eight-year tenure.

"I think they'll be down," one high-major assistant told ESPN. "Especially early if they have a tough nonconference schedule. But the positive for them is that college basketball took a hit. All the best freshmen left after last season, and this year's freshman class isn't that good."

Kentucky's team is the youngest in the SEC, and likely the most inexperienced in the country. There's no veteran leader, no clear NBA lottery talent and no longer a weak SEC to help rack up league victories.

That means Kentucky will likely be vulnerable.

Normally I’m not big on Goodman nor do I read his work, but he does bring up some valid points here and he voices some concerns that Kentucky fans agree with publicly or privately.

But I think he is off-base on a few of his points.

No Superstar

Kentucky has a couple of guys that can fit this mold. Both Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox are highly regarded recruits. Diallo was the most athletic player at the NBA combine and Knox has the potential to be an elite player on offense.

Add this to the fact that Kentucky has the overall number one recruiting class in the nation with players that can play multiple positions, the depth of this team should be a strength. So while there are two potential superstars on this team, the collection of talent as a whole will be better than most teams that they will face.

Perimeter Shooting a Concern

Jamal Murray, Malik Monk, Devin Booker, and Doron Lamb are all arguably the best shooters that have played for Calipari at Kentucky. While there isn’t one guy like that on this season’s team, there are a few players that could fill this need.

Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are both players that have the ability to shoot the rock. Gilgeous-Alexander won the three point competition at the Derby City Classic All Star Game in Louisville.

Four star recruit Jamarl Baker is a three point specialist that Cal recruited to specifically fill the need for a perimeter shooter.

And back to Kevin Knox: he is a 6’8 wing player that is more comfortable shooting jump shots than he is playing in the post. He can certainly knock it down when given the opportunity much like Trey Lyles.

And don’t forget that we were asking the same questions last season. Malik Monk was not expected to be a great three point shooter but emerged as one. Like Gilgeous-Alexander he too won an All Star three point competition.

SEC Deepest in a Decade

I do agree with this assessment. South Carolina and Florida, along with Kentucky, proved in the tournament that the SEC is on the rise. Kentucky isn’t going to blow through the SEC like usual but the conference schedule actually sets up favorably for the ‘Cats.

Their away games include some of the weaker teams in the SEC with Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, and Arkansas all away from Rupp. South Carolina did make it to the Final Four, but Frank Martin is losing PJ Dozier and Sindarius Thornwell.

The home/away contests with Florida, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt will be difficult, but I don’t put too much stock in Tennessee as of now. Florida is going to be extremely good and A&M should be as well. Mizzou is going to be much like LSU with Ben Simmons: they have the best player but can Cuonzo Martin make it work than Johnny Jones did?


So what should expectations be for this team? The good news is that Cal is a wizard at getting young talent to play at a high level. Also, he’s kind of been here before. As Nick Roush from KSR points out, Goodman is forgetting 2013. That job was much tougher given the fact that Kyle Wiltjer was the only returning player from that team and the talent level was not near as high as this year’s team.